An ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood was in shock on Sunday after a prominent member of the community was reportedly outed as an undercover Christian missionary.
Beyneynu, a nonprofit organization that monitors missionary activity in Israel, said Sunday that it had been “investigating the case of a covert missionary in French Hill for many years,” but had acted to expose him now “due to one of the missionary’s children proselytizing in school.”
Hebrew media said the man, who was not identified publicly, had posed as a rabbi and a kohen (priest) and worked as a scribe and a mohel, conducting ritual circumcisions.
However, it was discovered that the family was actually not Jewish, but from a Christian family from New Jersey in the US, and had reportedly forged documents to show they were Jewish in order to emigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.
“We are confident that the Jewish leaders will act strongly against this threat, and quickly put protective measures in place to protect the Jewish community,” Beyneynu said.
The ultra-Orthodox website Behadrei Haredim reported that when the man’s recently deceased wife became ill with cancer several years ago, she told friends some things that did not make sense to them and sparked the investigation.
The wife had reportedly falsely claimed to be the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
Investigators discovered that the family’s parents in the US were not Jewish and were posting missionary material on social media, the paper said. The man’s late father was buried in a non-Jewish cemetery. An obituary identified him as a member of the Friendship Mennonite Church.
Beyneynu said it had “taken great care in verifying each piece of evidence before exposing this case to the public,” but did not detail the evidence.
“Until now we kept it quiet because we did not want the father to move to another neighborhood (to carry on his work,) and we wanted to work to get his citizenship revoked,” Yoni Kayman, a community member involved in the investigation, told Behadrei Haredim.
Kayman said the father had also recently begun to try and get rid of the evidence, deleting things on social media, and had stopped sending his daughters to the local religious school, so they decided to inform the community of his activities.
Channel 13 news broadcast clips from 2011 of the father speaking on US television, acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah.
Speaking to Channel 13, the man denied he was working as an undercover Christian missionary.
“It’s a lie, I was born Jewish,” he said. However, he acknowledged working as a missionary seven or eight years ago, but said he had “repented.”
Community members expressed shock, noting how involved the family was and the fact that after the wife died, the community set up a fund for the family and had been helping to support them.
“The family looked completely ultra-Orthodox, he had a long beard and a hat, the boys had side-curls, the girls went to Beis Yaakov schools,” Kayman told Channel 13.
“For five years we have been supporting them, paying for their groceries, school buses, for everything, and they deceived us,” he said.
Israel enjoys vigorous support from Christian evangelical movements in the United States but keeps a lid on missionary work in the Holy Land.
While Israeli law only expressly forbids the giving of money or gifts to encourage conversions to another religion, missionary activities, in general, are closely monitored by the authorities and are offensive to many Israelis.
Also forbidden by law is “missionary or proselytizing activity directed at minors without the permission of their parents.”