JERUSALEM -- Israel's high court is considering whether someone who believes in Jesus can be regarded as Jewish.

The case involves a Zimbabwe couple who want to be registered as Jews and acquire the financial incentives given Jewish immigrants.

Jerry and Shirley Beresford belong to a Messianic Jewish group in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon. Messianic Jews hold that belief in Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of Judaism.

Israel's Law of Return entitles Jews anywhere in the world to immigrate to Israel. But in 1962 the High Court ruled that the law does not apply to a Jew who converted to Christianity.

Beresford's attorney, Yosef Ben-Menashe, told the high court that most Israelis are tolerant of Messianic Jews. He cited a recent poll that said that 78 percent of those surveyed agreed that children of a Messianic Jewish mother should receive the rights of a Jewish immigrant.

But Uzi Fogelman, representing the state, said the Ramat Hasharon community tries to convert Jews. Leading Israeli scholars, he said, see Messianic Jews as Christians.

The hearing came two days after the high court considered the case of a couple who underwent a non-Orthodox conversion and was denied the right to be registered as Jewish. During the hearing, the ministry reversed its stand and said it would enter them into the population registry as Jews.

The head of the Interior Ministry's population registry, Yehoshua Kahane, said, however, that his office would not relent in the case of the Messianic Jews, whom he called "Christians pretending to be Jews."

The high court is expected to resume the hearing in the next few weeks. At the same time, the Interior Ministry is said to be seeking a compromise that would avoid a precedent-setting decision.