Little Bits of History

Who is a Jew?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 5, 2014
Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall

Dome of the Rock and Wailing Wall

July 5, 1950: The Law of Return is passed by the Knesset. Israel achieved independence from Mandatory Palestine in 1948. The Knesset is the parliamentary arm of the government. The purpose of the law was to put into practice the Zionist movement’s principle of establishing Israel as a Jewish state. The law permitted every Jew to come to Israel as an oleh (male) or olah (female). This means the person would be permitted to come to the new nation and settle and gain full citizenship. Aliyah is the return to the Promised land after the Diaspora and the culmination of returning “home” is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

There was follow up legislation passed with the Nationality Law of 1952 and in 1970 the law listed inclusion for those born Jewish (having a Jewish mother or grandmother), having Jewish ancestry (having a Jewish father or grandfather), or converts to Judaism (Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative denominations with some extra codicils for the last two). People who immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return are immediately entitled to citizenship. There is a difference of opinion as to whether or not to list all entrants to the country via this method as “Jewish” for census purposes. According to Halakhic rules, a person is Jewish if born that way or converting, but conversions performed by Reform or Conservative Judaism are not recognized by Orthodox Jews.

Children and spouses of Jews were eventually granted the same accord as that granted to full-fledged Jews on this day. There are exceptions. A Jew can be excluded from Israeli citizenship if the person is deemed dangerous to the welfare of the State of Israel. This includes Jews who have committed a serious crime (such as murder) or are fugitives from any country for any felony (unless they are persecution victims). This has been invoked rarely but some notable non-citizens are Robert Soblen, Meyer Lansky (who was initially permitted entry but extradited two years later), and Victor Vancier. Also excluded are any Jews who converted to a different religion.

The 1970 additions clarifying who was included in this law can be explained in several ways. The choice to remain Jewish or convert means one thing to Halakhic definitions while it means nothing to Nuremberg Laws. A response to a Polish anti-Semitic movement in 1968 would allow more Jews who had assimilated access to freedom in Israel. Another reason would be to simply bring more Jews to the country to offset the increase in Arab citizens. Also, as the leadership became more secular, the loosening of the definition of “Who is a Jew” was also relaxed. Since 1950 nearly 3 million Jews have immigrated to Israel.

Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom. – John F. Kennedy

We plan to eliminate the state of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. We Palestinians will take over everything, including all of Jerusalem. – Yasser Arafat

I often hear them accuse Israel of Judaizing Jerusalem. That’s like accusing America of Americanizing Washington, or the British of Anglicizing London. You know why we’re called ‘Jews’? Because we come from Judea. – Benjamin Netanyahu

In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles. – David Ben-Gurion

Also on this day: Salvation Army – In 1865, William Booth founds The Christian Mission, later to become The Salvation Army.
SPAM – In 1937, Hormel introduced SPAM.
Principia – In 1687, Newton first published his masterpiece.
Ooh La La – In 1946, new swimwear was revealed (and revealing).

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