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Am I Jewish Enough? Depends which Government Ministry You’re Asking

Taglit-Birthright kids celebrate in Israel. Nothing else keeps them Jewish.

Taglit-Birthright kids celebrate in Israel. Nothing else keeps them Jewish.
Photo Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash 90

Things always go nuts when state meets church, or synagogue, in the case of the Jewish State. It would have been a lot simpler had the State of Israel adopted the Torah and the Shulchan Aruch as its constitution. If you ask me, Israel would have developed a lot more like the United States than like the Soviet Union—but that’s a different debate.

For many cultural and historical but mostly for political reasons, the founding fathers and mothers of the fledgling state for all the Jews came up for their own mix of legal systems, not so much a constitution as an open-ended melange of precedence and foreign systems and smidgens of “Hebrew Law.”

Judy Maltz, writing in the Forward this week, sums it aptly with the headline: Jewish Enough for Birthright — But Not for Israel: Kafkaesque Dilemmas Bedevil Would-Be Immigrants.

I suppose Kafkaesque states make for Kafkaesque dilemmas.

The original Law of Return 5710-1950 declares the right of Jews to come to Israel: “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh.” There was some follow-up legislation in the Nationality Law of 1952, and some reupholstering in 1970, extending the right of return to non-Jews with a Jewish grandparent, and their spouses.

So that the current definition of the law of “who is a Jew” includes, in writing, non-Jews.

I know it probably had to be done at the time, in anticipation of the much needed arrival of Polish and Russian Jews. But it stretched the gap between the Shulchan Aruch and the state’s definitions so wide, it stopped making sense.

Kafkaesque stories rise when the law stops making sense.

The law since 1970 applies to:

People born Jews, having a Jewish mother or maternal grandmother.

People with Jewish ancestry, having a Jewish father or grandfather.

People who converted to Judaism within the Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative denominations. Except the Reform and Conservative conversions are only recognized if they were done outside Israel.

So, to reiterate, a Jew is a non-Jew, or one converted in a non-Jewish conversion.

Kafkaesque? Maybe. I’m leaning towards Jospeh Heller.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to advocate against Reform rabbis or against gentiles, only to point out that once you created a Jewish State that’s not based on Jewish Law you’re bound to mess up and victimize a lot of innocent civilians.

There are three essential authorities dealing with the status of Jews immigrating to Israel: the Ministry of Absorption, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Religious Services via the Chief Rabbinate.

Anyone with an IQ in the two-digits and up will tell you there’s no way in the world these three authorities, staffed by officials from three-dimensionally opposed political and philosophical points of view, could ever cooperate on anything. The fact that they’re doing as well as they are is nothing short of a proof of the existence of a benign and loving God.

The Maltz article describes young people who make spontaneous decisions to come live in Israel, and soon run into trouble with the various authorities. What about those who plan their immigration well in advance, taking months, if not years, lining up all their ducks in order, only to discover they are short a couple of ducks, and where’s the chicken? You were supposed to bring a chicken.

I’d like to propose a solution.

First, regarding people who come to Israel, fall in love and wish to stay, only to discover Grandma Miriam was a goy—they should be granted a visitor’s status good for three years, something akin to the American green card. It will entitle them to work in Israel, and in the end of three years they can apply for citizenship. In reality, the only setback they would have to endure is a little bit of hurt pride, and they won’t get the aid package, which comes to only a few thousand dollars these days.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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4 Responses to “Am I Jewish Enough? Depends which Government Ministry You’re Asking”

  1. Anyone with an IQ in the two-digits and up will tell you there’s no way in the world these three authorities, staffed by officials from three-dimensionally opposed political and philosophical points of view, could ever cooperate on anything. The fact that they’re doing as well as they are is nothing short of a proof of the existence of a benign and loving God.

    Unfortunately, without the above three agreeing that there is no justification for war, there will never be peace. King Solomon's statement will continue on. Nothing is new under the sun.

    Regards and good will blogging

  2. OK Mr. I am Jewish through a Reform Converted mother and a born to a Jewish mother father and have been moreso living a Jewish life since he died and I became his Kaddish in my uncle’s Conservative Egalitarian synagogue (at his insistence). So if I’m not Jewish enough for you to return to Israel, why would I want to give any funds to any group that gives money to Israel as I have done over the years?

  3. Also my Reform Convert mother was a total and complete Zionist and made me one! This “who is Jew” is like what the Nazis did to determine who went to the camps IMHO!

  4. Alex Salomon says:

    An Iranian embassy official who was kidnapped in Sanaa in July was found beheaded in central Yemen on Saturday, an official of the local administration said.

    The official, who declined to be identified, said the body was found in an area of oil fields known as Safer in Maarib province. The official said the condition of the beheaded body suggests the diplomat was killed a day ago. (Reuters)

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