Israel is my Jewish state, your Jewish state

International politics is roiling, like a pot that needs its lid lifted. We hear of controversial news regarding Israel – does it ever leave you feeling angry or conflicted?

Has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s questionable attentiveness to Diaspora relations left you wondering?

No doubt, the news out of Israel can be difficult to synthesize at times.

Yet, it remains your Jewish state. It’s my Jewish state, your Jewish state, all of Jewry’s Jewish state. Israel is the state that uniquely belongs to all of us, despite its blemishes, despite its challenges in a dangerous part of the world.

Rob Golub

Even if you’re an interfaith partner who’s never fully taken in your spouse’s greater interest in Israel. Even if you’re a Jew who doesn’t follow the news much, if you’re more concerned with your Insta and your Snaps, it’s your Israel.

Consider the 1950 Law of Return.

Two years after the state of Israel was founded, five years after the end of the Holocaust, the Knesset passed a law granting every Jew a right to immigrate to Israel. This was the 1950 Law of Return.

In the 1970s, the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – doubled down. It amended the law to include anybody with one Jewish grandparent and anybody married to a Jew.

The law even applies to children’s and grandchildren’s non-Jewish spouses, though it draws a line excluding Jews who have voluntarily changed their religion.

In 2011, Israel granted citizenship to a non-Jewish gay man married to a Jew, for the first time applying the Law of Return to a spouse in same-sex marriage.

In 2014, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar confirmed that the law applies to same-sex couples. “I see no reason to distinguish between Jews married in heterosexual marriages and Jews legally married abroad to a same-sex spouse,” he wrote in a note to his ministry, according to Haaretz. “Both are Jews in terms of the Law of Return.”

Orthodox rabbis in Israel have say over “Who is a Jew?” for marriage and conversion purposes. Yet Diaspora Jews who convert through the Reform and Conservative movements are eligible for automatic Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

The system is not perfect, as noted by the Union for Reform Judaism.

“Olim (immigrants) must often confront a cumbersome governmental system which has given rise to an Orthodox monopoly in matters of religious status and the provision of religious services,” reads a Reform movement statement. “Prospective olim who have reason to believe that the Orthodox authorities may question their Jewish status must clarify this matter thoroughly before coming to Israel.”

Yet Israel at its core is open to the Diaspora. It was founded as a Jewish homeland, defined broadly. In 1958, founding Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion said that it is “perhaps a bitter fact that in matters of religion and religious law there is no unity among the Jewish people and in America there are Orthodox, Conservative, Liberal and Reform rabbis.”

“There are many Jews who belong to neither one or the other, but are in my opinion Jews as long as they do not become converted to another religion.”

Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.


Passages from the Israeli Law of Return

  • “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an (immigrant)”
  • “The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an oleh … as well as the rights of an oleh under any other enactment, are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.”
  • “For the purposes of this Law, ‘Jew’ means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.”