Messianics outdoor wedding site shuttered
ISTANBUL, Turkey (BP) -- A hotel's outdoor wedding site near Jerusalem at the world's only kibbutz -- a communal settlement or farm -- for Messianic Jews remains shuttered after the kibbutz lost an appeal against a ruling calling for it to host homosexual wedding parties.
Gay couples in Israel have forced the wedding hall at the Moshav (a kind of kibbutz) Yad Hashmona to close by flooding it with marriage ceremony requests they knew it would refuse to fulfill, thus subjecting it to legal peril, hotel personnel said.
Ayelet Ronen, general secretary of Yad Hashmona, said the requests came from people trying to "punish" the kibbutz for refusing to host the ceremonies or from those seeking a quick payoff in damages if the kibbutz refused.
The kibbutz, which lost the appeal in June, refuses to host the wedding ceremonies because doing so would violate its religious principles and religious freedom.
"We feel God has given us this piece of land in Israel, and it's a center for believers," Ronen told Morning Star News. "To bring gays to get married here, it's crossing the line. We cannot do that. Our conscience wouldn't allow it."
Ronen said the calls seemed to be organized by activists. Three days after the initial 2012 ruling in the lawsuit filed in 2009, the massive weight of phone calls and e-mails from the homosexual community led members of Yad Hashmona to close the reception hall altogether. Leaving it open would have exposed the kibbutz to potential lawsuits and legal costs members of the kibbutz would be unable to pay, Ronen said.
Calls to Yad Hashmona with requests for same-sex union celebrations have decreased, but they continue.
Moshe Yoad Cohen, a judge for the Jerusalem District Court, in June upheld a lower court decision that the Moshav Yad Hashmona had discriminated against the couple. Cohen also upheld the penalty imposed by the lower court in 2012, a fine of 60,000 shekels (US$17,400) awarded to the couple and 30,000 shekels (US$8,700) in legal fees for their attorney.
The court rulings were based on a 2000 law in Israel banning business or services from discriminating based on sex, religion, color, race or sexual orientation.
The judge's ruling against the appeal now means the kibbutz will have to keep the hall closed, unless a higher court accepts another appeal and the kibbutz wins or it can come up with a different business model for the reception hall. Revenue from the kibbutz' hotel and events business "kept the village going," Ronen said.
Hotel General Manager Tsuriel Bar-David told Morning Star News the business is fighting for survival.
"We had to stop all activities related to weddings in our hotel so we won't be accused of discriminating against anyone, since the law does not accept the fact that we want to keep our biblical values in our business," Bar-David said. "The fact that we don't do any more weddings and related events has caused us to lose money."
Ronen said that the kibbutz is "under attack."
"We feel that Yad Hashmona, our village, is just very special," she said. "It is the only village of [Messianic Jewish] believers in Israel, and it is really under attack, a serious attack. On the one hand, in Israel we have the Jewish religious people who don't like us at all. The [ultra-Orthodox] rabbinicals, they hate the believers. On the other hand, you have here the ultra-secular attacking us from the other side [with] the gay community. It's a very difficult position to be in, and we're really seeking the Lord to see what will happen."
For the roughly 120 people who live at the village, Yad Hashmona is a deeply spiritual place. Bar-David said the kibbutz was called to be a "light to the world." It is the home of no fewer than three ministries, including a center for Bible translation. Located in a wooded area 20 minutes west of Jerusalem by automobile, it is a place where members of the community and visitors alike can seek and share God.
"I feel sad that we are being blamed for being hateful of others, [just] because we don't want to take part in doing something against the Word of God," Bar-David said. "First of all, from a village and community that was always known for being peaceful, loving and welcoming to others, we were shown by the media as a cult that rejects others and shows hatred to anyone who is not like us. We were accused by some people for thinking and acting like the Nazis."
Ronen said the community was unsure whether or not to appeal.
"There are people who really want us to appeal, and they say, 'Go forward with this, move forward with this, appeal it because it is serious.' But the people in Yad Hashmona don't really want to appeal it, because every time we go through this, there's a very, very negative reaction and a very difficult one. So the question is, 'Should we appeal and fight for our rights, or should we accept it?'"
She said that although "the morals of the world are not quite in our favor," she personally would like to continue the appeals process.
"I am like Paul in that sense," she said. "I think you should fight all the way until the end, if you can, for what is your right. Let's go all the way up. If we lose, we lose."
As for the future of the business, Ronen said the kibbutz is waiting, hoping and praying.
"You know, if the body of believers in Israel were big, what I would do is close the hotel completely, close the business and open it as a Messianic center or a Believers Center in Israel," she said. "But the truth is there aren't that many believers in this country, so it's not like it has big enough activity, so it's something to think about, and pray."
This story first appeared at Morning Star News (www.MorningStarNews.org), a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide. Used by permission.