Non-Jewish olim? 59% of new immigrants don't meet strict religious rules

According to the CBS, there were 30,300 immigrants who came to Israel under the Law of Return, of whom 12,600 were Jewish and 17,700 were not.

By
January 2, 2019 16:06
3 minute read.
Non-Jewish olim? 59% of new immigrants don't meet strict religious rules

Two new Olim taking an excited selfie upon landing in Israel. (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)

More than half of all immigrants to Israel in 2018 under the Law of Return were not Jewish, figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics have shown.

According to the CBS, there were 30,300 immigrants who came to Israel under the Law of Return, of whom 12,600 were Jewish and 17,700 were not.

The Law of Return allows for any person who has one Jewish grandparent to immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship. Jewish law stipulates, however, that a person is Jewish only if their mother was Jewish.

According to the Jewish Agency, 17,000 immigrants came to Israel from Russia and Ukraine in 2018.

There are approximately 400,000 Israelis, mostly from the former Soviet Union, who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return but who are not Jewish, and this number is growing every year, due to both natural growth and continued immigration.

Moshe Nissim, a former justice minister who authored proposals last year to change Israel’s conversion authority in light of the challenge of the growing number of such citizens, said when publishing his recommendations that this population could grow to 500,000 in another 12 years.

According to a study in 2014 by Prof. Ze’ev Khanin, the chief scientist of the Aliyah and Integration Ministry and senior lecturer in political studies at Bar-Ilan University, approximately half of the immigrants coming to Israel from the states of the former Soviet Union aged 30 and above are not Jewish, along with 75% of younger immigrants from that region.

The growing number of such citizens – Zionist Israelis who are integrated into society but who are not Jewish according to Jewish law – has raised concerns in Orthodox circles that intermarriage and long-term partnerships between Jews and non-Jews will increase significantly in future generations.

One approach to solve the problem of Jewish intermarriage has been to push for a higher rate of conversion and to make conversion easier, especially for those descended from Jews, for whom Jewish law provides certain leniencies.

An independent Orthodox system of rabbinical courts called Giyur K’Halacha was established in 2015 to take on this challenge, with a view in particular for converting minors (with parental consent), for which Jewish law provides even greater leniencies.

Others have called for passing legislation so that only Jews according to Jewish law could gain access to citizenship through the Law of Return.

Rabbi Seth Farber, head of the ITIM religious services organization and a key figure behind the establishment of Giyur K’Halacha, argued that increased conversion is the better answer.

“These people are part of the body of the Jewish people around the world, and the Jewish people have a responsibility to provide them with a homeland for historical reasons; this is part of the justification for the State of Israel,” said Farber.

“Instead of trying to tamper with moral, historical and political realities, we should spend time trying to encourage conversion and not eliminate it,” he added.

However, Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine Rabbi Yaakov Bleich described the numbers as “a disaster” and said ongoing immigration to Israel of non-Jews under the Law of Return would lead to assimilation in Israel.

“We, with our [own] hands, are facilitating intermarriage and assimilation in the State of Israel,” said Bleich.

The rabbi said that legislative changes to the Law of Return should be considered, especially regarding the ability of the grandchildren of Jews, who are themselves not Jewish, to gain citizenship under the law.

“I understand it’s not popular, but the issue is the future of the Jewish people in the home of the Jewish people,” he said.


Related Content

October 15, 2019
On the throne of Israeli geeks: Writer Brandon Sanderson honored at ICon

By AARON REICH

Cookie Settings