With the exception of Tel Aviv, cities around Israel have agreed to cooperate with a Yad L’Achim initiative that aims to use little-enforced municipal bylaws to battle missionaries.
In a letter to Israel’s mayors, Yad L’Achim chairman Harav Shalom Dov Lifschitz noted that one of the strategies of the missionaries is to flood an area with their pamphlets, littering sidewalks, public squares and streets in violation of city cleanliness bylaws.
“It is incumbent upon every Jew to do what he can to stymie missionaries, to prevent them from succeeding in their ultimate goal, the destruction of the Jewish people,” he wrote.
Toward this end, Rav Lifschitz asked local leaders to enforce municipal bylaws that forbid “dispersing or distributing announcements in a public place” due to the litter and harm to the ecology they cause.
“In the event that missionaries scatter their pamphlets, we ask that you insist on enforcement of the law,” Yad L’Achim’s chairman wrote. “This includes bringing up violators on charges and imposing fines.”
The letter concludes: “It is your merit, and duty, to save Jews from shemad.”
Rav Lifschitz enclosed with his letter shocking figures on the extent of missionary activity in Israel in recent years, as well as pictures showing missionaries in action, distributing massive amounts of material that not only aimed to destroy Jewish souls, but also the appearance of major cities around the country.
By and large, the Yad L’Achim appeal was well-received. The mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat pledged not only to pass it on to the appropriate department head, but to follow up and ensure that it was carried out with maximum efficiency.
“I am hopeful that the response meets with your satisfaction,” he wrote.
The deputy mayor of Ramat Gan, Avihu Ben Moshe, said “the law will be enforced against anyone who violates it.” He asked Yad L’Achim to update his office on any illegal activity and promised that “I will deal with it personally.”
The mayor or Rechovot, Rachamim Malul, wrote: “I have passed on your letter, together with my recommendation, to ensure that this phenomenon is dealt with according to the law.”
The office of Haifa’s mayor acknowledged the importance of Yad L’Achim’s letter and said it would be passed on to the relevant parties in City Hall.
The deputy mayor of Ashdod, Rabbi Mordechai Leiberman, emphasized that “we see eye to eye on the severity of the phenomenon of distributing missionary pamphlets” and promised to be vigilant in enforcing city by-laws.
The one dissenting voice came from the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Hall which refused to accede to the request. Responding on behalf of the municipality, attorney Boaz Bahrav wrote: “We recognize the Chassidim of Breslov who distribute religious material on the streets of the city and enjoy freedom of expression.” Therefore, he added, “it is doubtful that we would enforce Clause 11 of the law because of the principle of freedom of expression.”
Rav Lifschitz expressed satisfaction at the positive responses of the majority of mayors, but found it astonishing that Tel Aviv would compare legitimate Jewish activity in a Jewish country to destructive missionary activity. He turned the attention of the city’s legal department to a Supreme Court ruling (467/75) that Messianic Jews are, contrary to the misleading name, not Jews.