Who Qualifies as a Jew? New Law Proposed to Redefine who makes Aliyah

Who is that uncircumcised Philistine that he dares defy the ranks of the living God?”




(the israel bible)

August 27, 2020

3 min read

A fierce debate broke out in the Knesset on Wednesday over a controversial bill introduced by Betsalel Smotrich, the head of the Tkuma party, which would redefine the Aliyah law and who is considered a Jew for the purposes of Israeli citizenship. The debate was so intense that the vote was delayed as the bill was officially rescinded by Smotrich in order to allow the members of Knesset time to consider the proposed law. 

The current Law of Return  was passed in 1950 and declares that “every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh [immigrant].” In 1970, the right of entry and settlement was extended to people with one Jewish grandparent and a person who is married to a Jew, whether or not he or she is considered Jewish under Orthodox interpretations of Halakha (Torah law). One of the reasons for phrasing the law this way was that the Nuremberg laws of the Nazis applied to anyone with a Jewish grandparent.

The change proposed by Smotrich would limit aliyah privileges to people with Jewish parents. This still does not conform with the Halachic definition of a Jew which is anyone with a Jewish mother or anyone who converts to Judaism in an Orthodox framework. Smotrich stated that he intends this amendment to the law as an interim step that will eventually bring Israeli civil law in line with Jewish religious law. 

The proposal faces fierce opposition and it is believed that as it stands, it will receive three votes out of the 120 in the Knesset plenum. 

Smotrich discussed his law on his Facebook page

“Mention of Hitler and the Nazi race laws is no more than cheap demagoguery, and a shameful misuse of the Holocaust – in order to damage the Jewish nature of the state, and flood it with people who have no connection to Judaism and the Jewish state,” Smotrich wrote. “Let me say, first: The large aliyah from the former USSR is an incredible, historic occasion. The miracle of ingathering the exiles is happening before our eyes. We love these immigrants and are thrilled to have them here. Most of them are rabinically recognized as Jews, and those who – because of the complications of our long, cursed exile – are not Jewish but are here already, must be embraced with love into the Jewish nation and undergo rabbinical conversion.”

“We bear the responsibility of the future of the Jewish people. For our future existence. That’s the whole story. Nothing less. The State of Israel cannot allow itself high percentages of assimilation, like the United States and Europe. Today there are over 300,000 immigrants who are not Jewish, and sadly the majority do not undergo conversion. If we continue to bring non-Jewish immigrants, with no connection to Judaism except the grandchild clause, we are likely to create serious assimilation in generations to come – endangering the future of the Jewish nation and negating the Jewish majority and nature of this state.”

“Those who see Judaism as cultural folklore, who see assimilation in the Jewish sense as no big deal – they can treat the grandchild clause as a convenient way to import mandates for their political party – one that rejects the Jewish character of the state. That’s what the ‘Yisrael Beiteinu’ party has done for years in the Ministry of Immigration.”

“For those whose Judaism is a religious concept with deep historical value, those who feel a responsibility as part of the long chain of generations of our Jewish people – they must understand that this clause endangers the future of the Jewish nation’s rebirth in our land.”

“Using Nazi and Holocaust imagery cannot hide this, nor can the demagogic reference to military service. Military service is important but it does not make someone Jewish, and it doesn’t mitigate the danger of assimilation. We can bring millions of non-Jews to Israel who are gladly willing to become Israeli and serve in the military. This might sound like a good argument, it rings humane and moral, but it is also cheap, populist and devastating to the Jewish nation and our Jewish state.”

“For years we have dealt with quick fixes to circumvent this problem, trying to find solutions for immigrants here, who are not Jewish. It’s high time we fix the cracks and stop the breach.”

“We are in no way rejecting non-Jews. Non-Jewish people without an inherent connection and who want to enter Israel are welcome to come under the law that is meant for them: The ‘Entry into Israel’ Law. This law contains a classification of entry permits, with the need to ‘prove seriousness’ before becoming naturalized citizens. This is different from the Law of Return, that gives Jewish people automatic entry and citizenship. Yes, for Jews.”

“Amending the grandchild clause will not prevent family members of Jews who do feel a connection to Judaism and the State of Israel, from immigrating under the Law of Return. They will simply have to prove seriousness and to convert under the law, before moving to Israel as Jews in every sense. Those who demand that non-Jews be allowed to immigrate to Israel without converting, are simply denying the rabbinic basis of Judaism – encouraging assimilation and the end of the Jewish nation.”

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