Israel: Shas seeks harsher punishment for missionaries

Led by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, party proposes bill to completely forbid proselytism in Israel, sentence violators to one year in prison.

A war on missionaries was declared Tuesday when Shas faction head MK Yakov Margi proposed a bill stating that Israel ‘s laws against proselytism should be aggravated.

Backed by six other faction members and in concordance with Shas’ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s instructions, Margi proposed the sentence for preaching conversion should be one year imprisonment.

“Every time he (Rabbi Ovadia Yosef) hears of a case where someone falls into missionary hands, he feels great sadness and asks us to try and save at least one soul in Israel,” said Margi.

“Whether it’s Christians coming from abroad or Jewish converts working in Israel, they all have the same agenda — to destroy every trace and memory of the people of Israel, and they plan to do this by converting Jews. These bodies are operating mainly among the Jewish population which is under physical, social and spiritual distress,” said the proposal.

Currently, Israeli law deals with conversion on two levels. Firstly, anyone offering money or material products in exchange for conversion faces five years in prison or a monetary fine. The person on the accepting end of the offer also faces a certain punishment.

On the second level, regarding minors, anyone acting in favor of or conducting a conversion ceremony on a minor, faces six month in jail.

‘Every man may live in his religion’

The law does not address attempts to convert adults over the age of 18, making it completely legitimate.

Shas members claim that the current law does not deter proselytizers and even though many complaints are filed in the matter, very few of them actually turn into indictments.

The proposal claimed that the weaker populations, such as Ethiopians and new immigrants, were more susceptible to missionary persuasion.

“There is no choice but to adopt the rules applying to forbidding proselytism among minors, for all matter relating to adults as well. In other words, completely forbidding preaching and proselytism,” said the proposal.

Shas was also sure to defend the bill from accusations of violating Israel’s freedom of religion principal, saying that “we do not mean to violate freedom of religion or freedom from religion. We mean to allow everyone to believe in their own religion, and prevent harassment by any source trying to harm the basic democratic right according to which ‘every man may live in his religion.'”

The proposal pointed out that the law does not specify which religion it applies to and therefore also forbids the proselytism of non-Jews to Judaism.

“The law also applies to Jewish sects bringing Muslims from the Old City to convert to Judaism,” it said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday March 14, 2007.
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