Christianity in Israel
Christianity in Israel is one of the recognized religions in Israel and is practiced by more than 161,000 Israeli citizens (about 2.1% of population). Some 80% of Christian residents of Israel are Arab Christians, who are historically bound with Palestinian Christians; some 25,000—the majority of the remaining are immigrants from the former Soviet Union who immigrated with Jewish relatives due to mixed marriages; there are also smaller ethnoreligious affiliations of about 7,000 Maronites, 1,000 Assyrians and 1,000 Copts; certain number of Israelis also practice Messianic Judaism—usually considered of form of Christianity, but exact numbers are not available. Nine churches are officially recognized under Israel's confessional system, for the self-regulation of status issues, such as marriage and divorce. These are the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Latin rite), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean (Uniate), Melkite (Greek Catholic), Ethiopian Orthodox, Maronite and Syriac Orthodox churches, and Anglicanism. The practice of religion is however free, and there is no limitation for other forms of Christianity as well as other faiths.
According to historical and traditional sources, Jesus lived in Roman Judea, and died and was buried on the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, making the area a Holy Land for Christianity. However, few Christians now live in the region, if compared to Muslims and Jews. This is mainly because Islam displaced Christianity in almost all of the Middle East, and the rise of modern Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel has seen millions of Jews migrate to Israel. The Christian population in Israel has increased significantly with the immigration of many mixed families from the former Soviet Union (1989-late 1990s) and more recently by influx of some 10,000 Christian Maronites from Lebanon in 2000. Recently a further increase in Christianity practices came with arrival of many foreign workers and asylum seekers, some of Christian background (such as Phillipinnes and South Sudan). As a result, numerous churches have opened in Tel Aviv.
The largest Christian community in Israel is that of the Greek Catholics, (Melkite), with 40% of the total Christian population. They are followed by the Greek Orthodox, 32%, the Roman Catholics, 20%, and the Maronites, 7%. The remaining Christian groups amount to around 1% of the total.[dubious ]
Most Christians in Israel belong primarily to branches of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and Roman Catholic Churches that oversee a variety of churches, monasteries, seminaries, and religious institutions all over the land, particularly in Jerusalem. In the 19th century the Russian Empire constituted itself the guardian of the interests of Christians living in the Holy Land, and even today large amounts of Jerusalem real estate (including the site of the Knesset building) are owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Many Christian citizens of Israel belong to the Catholic Churches and affiliated Eastern churches. The most practiced are Roman Catholic Church proper (Latin Church), Greek Catholic Church (Melchite) and Maronite Church affiliations.
There has been a small Protestant community in Israel since its inception in 1948, based on either Christian Arabs who had changed their religious affiliation to Protestant teachings or European residents moving to the area. In modern times, one of the most vocal and active sectors of Christianity in support of Israel has come from the Protestant churches that support Evangelicalism. Each year hundreds of thousands of Christian Evangelicals come as tourists to see Israel, to be inspired by the land of the Bible and in the process benefiting the local economy as well. Evangelicals are generally very supportive of Israel, while as many as 82% of them believe that God gave Israel to the Jews.
Messianic Judaism is a religious movement that incorporates elements of Judaism with the tenets of Christianity. They worship God the Father as one person of the Trinity. They worship Jesus, whom they call "Yeshua". Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They emphasise that Jesus was a Jew, as were his early followers. Most adherents in Israel reject traditional Christianity and its symbols, in favour of celebrating Jewish festivals. Although followers of Messianic Judaism are not considered Jews under Israel's Law of Return, there are an estimated 10,000 adherents in the State of Israel, both Jews and other non-Arab Israelis, many of them recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In Jerusalem, there are twelve Messianic congregations[not in citation given]. On 23 February 2007, Israel Channel 2 News released a news documentary about the growing number of Messianic Jews in Israel. In Israel Jewish Christians themselves, go by the name Mashiykhiyyim (from Messiah, as found in the Franz Delitzsch Hebrew New Testament) rather than the traditional Talmudic name for Christians Notzrim, (from Nazarene).
Christian-Jewish Relations in the 21st Century
Sons of the New Testament Party
Recently, there has been a steady undercurrent of Christian Arabs who seek deeper integration into Israeli society. Under the leadership of Priest Gabriel Nadaf, the "Sons of the New Testament" is a political party that advocates Christian enlistment in the IDF and a more distinct societal separation of Christians from Muslims. This separation is partly based on the purported fact that Christians in Israel are not technically Arabs, seeing as they were present in the holy land long before the Arab conquest, hallmarked by the Siege of Jerusalem. This distinction is in the process of being formalized into law, as the Likud government is currently drafting legislation to grant this request.
This new attitude is founded largely by the realization that only in Israel is the Christian population growing due to natural increase and no state persecution, against the entire Middle East where Christianity is and has been rapidly on the decline. In addition, increasing numbers of Christian leaders and community members are pointing to Muslim violence as a threat to their way of life in Arab majority cities and towns. Sons of the New Testament as a party and a national movement has been met with wide admiration from the Jews of Israel, harshly negative scorn from the Muslim Arabs, and mixed reactions from the Christians themselves. Because of Israel's parliamentary system where each party must attain at least 2% of the popular vote, Sons of the New Testament must be supported by non Christians to enter the Knesset.
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