27 March 1993 Beresfords challenge “Law of Return” for Messianic Jews #otdimjh

27 March 1993 Beresford Case challenges boundaries of Jewish identity and Law of Return #0tdimjh

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The Los Angeles Times reported:

MEVASSERET ZION, Israel — Shirley Beresford is cleaning her porcelain of the winter dust, vacuuming and re-vacuuming the last cookie crumbs from crevices in the sofas and washing the final traces of flour, macaroni and cake mix from her kitchen cupboards. Everything in her house, she declares, will be “absolutely, absolutely kosher for Passover.”

Shirley and Gary Beresford are Orthodox Jews, strict in their observance of the commandments of the Torah, ardent in their Zionism. They keep the Sabbath, follow Jewish dietary laws and fast on Yom Kippur. He wears a skullcap and prays regularly at the Mevasseret Zion synagogue. Several of her relatives perished in the Holocaust, while others helped found a kibbutz here.


All seems quite Jewish, traditionally so, with the Beresfords–except that they believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the long-awaited redeemer promised the Jews.

“We are Jews,” Gary Beresford said. “We were born Jews, we were raised Jews, we were married as Jews, we live as Jews and we pray as Jews. But we believe, and with all our hearts, that Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) is the Messiah.”

In Israel, that belief, shared by the Beresfords with others who call themselves Messianic Jews, poses major legal, religious and, ultimately, political problems, both for them and the government, in another twist in the sensitive debate here over the issue of “Who is a Jew?”


After nearly six years of applications, petitions and hearings, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that their beliefs make the Beresfords and two immigrant couples from the United States apostates and bar them from citizenship to which all Jews are entitled under the country’s 1950 Law of Return.

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Now, anti-Christian groups are campaigning for the Beresfords’ deportation. They “have overstayed their welcome, and the last thing our country needs is more resident missionaries who preach Christianity while masquerading as Jews,” one group declared in a newspaper advertisement. Another ad appealed, “Cut this cancer out of our midst.”

Pressure is also building on Rabbi Arye Deri, the interior minister, and his Shas Party, from their constituency in Israel’s haredi community of strictly observant Orthodox Jews to take forceful action to discourage other Messianic Jews from moving here.

The Beresfords, who came from Zimbabwe, and the two American families have the promise of help from new legislation that would grant permanent residence on the basis of family reunion to parents or children of Israeli citizens or of Israeli residents who served in the military here. Two Beresford sons are Israeli citizens, as is Shirley Beresford’s mother, though she too is a Messianic Jew. Their visas have been extended until May 21 to allow passage of the law.

“We are not even getting into the question of their Jewishness, but of allowing them to remain with their families,” said Benny Temkin, a member of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, from the left-wing Meretz Party. “This is not only their problem, but a problem for other immigrants.”

Yet, in a country where religion defines nationality and underpins the political system, even such a small shift has consequences, moving Israel a bit further toward religious pluralism and, say critics, secularization.

“If Judaism is wide enough to accommodate the different ultra-Orthodox Hasidic sects, the anti-Zionists, both the Habad and Reform movements, the various false messiahs and Jews who are atheists, it should have no problem with us,” Gary Beresford said.

“The point is that we have not converted to Christianity, we have not been baptized as Christians, we have not joined any Christian church or denomination. We are Jews who believe that Yeshua was indeed the Messiah, and through this we have become better and more observant Jews. . . .”

The Beresfords see themselves and other Messianic Jews, said to number about 2,000 families in 35 congregations in Israel, as the start of a “Jewish Reformation” that will gradually bring Israelis and Jews worldwide to a spiritual renewal based on acceptance of Jesus.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the courage and faith of Gary and Shirley Beresford. We pray that you will continue to strengthen them and all Jewish believers in Yeshua, especially in Israel. At this time of governmental change, increasing global anti-Semitism, and new opportunities for Messianic Jews to articulate clearly what it means to be Jewish and believe in Yeshua, give them and all of us wisdom to discern the times, and share your love with all. In Yeshuas name we pray. Amen.


Haim Shapiro, “Messianic Jew Allowed to Remain in Country,” Jerusalem Post, 14 March 1989. Also, Haim Shapiro, “Would be Settlers Rejected,” The Jewish Chronicle, 31 March 1989, 4.



From http://www.etd.ceu.hu/2012/pransky_tiffany.pdf:

The Case

The legal proceedings of the Beresfords began in March 1987.160 Despite the fact that Gary and Shirley were both Jewish by descent, the Interior Minister argued that the Beresfords were not eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return since they were no longer Jews161 because of their religious beliefs. The Interior Ministry claimed they were “members of another religion” – Christianity, to be exact. As Torah-observant Messianic Jews, the Beresfords disagreed. Consequently, the case revolved around whether or not Messianic Jews were to be considered “members of another religion,” which disqualifies one from receiving citizenship [41] under the Law of Return.162 Once more, the legal ramifications of personal identification mismatching the nationally authorized immigration standards would prove to be significant, to say the least.

The Judgment

On Christmas Day, 1989, the three-judge panel ruled unanimously that Messianic Jews are not entitled to the right of return because they are “members of another religion.” Thus, the Beresfords’ petition was dismissed. In the ruling, two justices outlined what they saw as the main beliefs and practices of the Beresfords. The Beresfords, both born to two Jewish parents, observed the Sabbath and dietary laws, felt a strong connection to the Jewish people, and supported Israel. However, since they were to be considered “members of another religion,” these practices and feelings amounted to nothing in terms of their entitlement to immigrate to Israel as Jews. In fact, the Beresfords were doubly ineligible to immigrate under the Law of Return – neither as a Jew as defined in Section 4B, nor as the family member of a Jew under Section 4A (a), which disqualifies anyone “born a Jew” (born to a Jewish mother) who converts to another religion.

In his judgment, Justice Elon interpreted the expression, “member of another religion” in the Law of Return according to Judaism, Jewish history, and the intention of the legislators when adding this phrase.163 Justice Barak rejected Elon’s interpretation of the term “Jew” according to religion. He argued that despite the pseudo-halachic definition of “Jew” in the Law of Return, the law is a secular-national law and should rightfully be interpreted according to secular-liberal- dynamic criteria instead of religious law. [42] Justice Barak’s secular interpretation of “member of another religion” would then be in line with the views of the average person on the street.164 And he concluded that at this point, an “every day Jew” would see the Beresfords as a “member of another religion.” Justice Elon criticized him for this flexible, ever-changing criterion for deciding who is a Jew which is “forever open to interpretation.”165 In his view, the legislators’ intent when amending the Law of Return in 1970 was to change the subjective definition of a Jew to a normative-objective one based upon halacha.166

Justice Elon compared what he called the Beresfords’ “subjective feelings” about remaining Jews to the “facts of history” or “historic reality.” Quoting Professor Werblowski and other academics in the field of religious studies, Elon reiterated, “History has already made its judgment.” “Belief in Jesus…involves a departure from the historical entity of the Jewish People.”167 “Subjective feelings” cannot change two thousand years of history, he said, “whereby these sects were expelled from the world of the Jewish people.”168 “After two thousand years of opposition and total separation between members of this sect and the members of the Jewish nation,” he continued, “Messianic Jews are asking to turn back the wheels of history.”169 Barak also quoted Werblowski, stating that belief in Jesus “means a severance from the historical entity of the Jewish people.”170 This is reminiscent of opinions expressed in the Brother Daniel case.

In this way, both justices indicated any belief in Jesus equals a severance from the Jewish people and that Messianic Jews, or Jews who change their religion, have “departed from the [43] ways of the ways of the Jewish community.”171 Converts from Judaism, they concluded, do not wish to be part of the Jewish community and “actively cut himself off from them.”172 Justice Elon once again affords immense power and authority to the forces of “history,” stating that Jewish religion and history “determine who, from the viewpoint of Judaism, continue to be counted amongst its members, and who have removed themselves from the Jewish corpus.”173 This also means separation from the “fate” of Jews in Israel. Conversely, conversion to Judaism indicates a person throws in their lot with the fate of the Jewish people.174 This continued theme of separation and othering, the idea that Messianic Jews have separated from the Jewish people, was weaved throughout the judgment.

Justice Elon also quoted the Bible and rabbinic sources to speak about apostates. Apostates, though they are born a Jew, are no longer called Jews and are not entitled to legal- social rights granted to Jews, “such as those constituting the substance of the Law of Return.”175 Barak mentioned the Landau judgment in the Rufeisen case, stating that it was “not the intention of legislators that everyone who declares himself to be a Jew” actually is. Such claims have “far- reaching and indirect implications.”176 It determines whether one has the automatic right to citizenship in Israel, for example, but the Law of Return was designed to identify the person whom it “wishes to grant the greatest of rights – the right of immigration to Israel.”177 And when interpreting the Law of Return, one must understand the intended target group of the Law of Return along with the state’s secular-national aspirations for the ingathering of Jews, which is [44] “not for those not included.”178 Justice Elon also declared, “It is not right for the Petitioners to…distort what it says, in order to be counted – against the will of the initiators of the Law of Return and its legislators – amongst those who are entitled to benefit from its provisions.”179 Elon added that the right of return was extended to family members of Jews to help mixed- marriage families wishing to immigrate to Israel with the hopes that in time, non-Jews would convert to Judaism.180 It was not intended to facilitate the immigration of individuals like the Beresfords who were once Jews but had distanced themselves from the Jewish people through their faith. In reaching his decision, Barak also considered the intentions of the legislators and founders of the State of Israel. The piece of legislation, he wrote, was formulated to “secure national aspirations” via Jewish immigration to Israel,181 or quoting Justice Agranat in the Shalit case, to “achieve the central destiny of the state.”182 He drove home this point several times.

About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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