Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Update on Converts and Aliyah: Reviewing the Law of Return

Do you ever get tunnel vision? Apparently I do. And I did when I wrote Convert Questions: Converts and Aliyah.

Let's summarize that post quickly: There are two times where your "Jewish" status matters when making aliyah to Israel: (1) for the Rabbinate (orthodox converts only, and even then it's not a given) and (2) the Ministry of the Interior, who decides who gets to become an Israeli citizen. The paradox I noted before was that the Rabbinate could think you're the frummest Yid since Moshe Rabbenu, but still not qualify as a Jew for purposes of the Law of Return. The Ministry of the Interior has unreleased (and sometimes changing) internal regulations that could prevent a convert from making aliyah because of an uncorrectable "flaw" in their conversion. As of right now, the policies in place require 1 year of residence in the converting community AFTER the conversion is complete. (I've also seen 9 months. Note that this policy was declared an unconstitutional violation of the Law of Return by the Israeli Supreme Court, so the Ministry of the Interior just started secretly enforcing this regulation.) This is bad if you converted 5, 10, or 20 years ago and moved to a new community within that year. You just can't fix that. Similarly, they're requiring a certain amount of study time as part of the conversion process (I've seen 350 hours), which is also something that can't be "corrected" later.

If you're like me and have no familial Jewish connections, that post is still true. However, the very clever Ronit reminded me to look at the other provisions of the Law of Return. (That's the law that allows Jews from anywhere in the world to immigrate to Israel with automatic citizenship.)

The Law of Return defines "Jew" (ironically enough) according to the same criteria used by the Nazis in their Nuremberg Laws: Anyone with one Jewish grandparent or who has a spouse with at least one Jewish grandparent. (Note that any halachic Jew who "voluntarily changed his religion" is ineligible for citizenship under the Law of Return. That includes Messianic Jews, but not Messianic Jews without a Jewish mother.) With all that in mind, let's look at some possible situations that can still get you converts back to the Land of Milk and Honey!

a) You get married to a Jew! You were going to do that anyway, right? If you got married (or were married before your conversion) to a Jew of any stream, you can make aliyah as a Jew, all internal regulations aside! No needing to wait a year, and no worrying about the hours requirement. Like you really needed the state of Israel to jump on the "What, you're 22? Get married and have babies already!" bandwagon.

b) You have a father or at least one grandparent who is Jewish. Proving that can get tricky, though. However, people do it all the time, so it can be done.

Basically, when do these regulations matter? When you're single and don't have Jewish family. AKA, this girl over here. Hence...tunnel vision. I apologize if I caused you any unnecessary fear, and may we all merit to live in the land!


  1. I always find it interesting that when most people use the phrase "The Land of Milk and Honey," they think of cow-milk and bee-honey, when it really refers to goat-milk and date-honey.

    Have you ever met any Messianic Jews? I sometimes hear that there are thousands of them, yet I've never met anyone who's met one. (Aside from one man who came to speak at YU who had stopped being a Jew for Jesus and become a Baal Teshuva.)

  2. Oh, I've met several! They used to do recruiting pushes on the streets of Charleston, SC, while I was in college (probably still do). Also, my ex-fiance met several who came into Arby's (he was a manager there), and he tried "talking Jewish" to them, but they were totally clueless and didn't get it. But they wore kippahs and giant stars of David! Creeeeeeepy. Even more worrisome, there's a Messianic Jewish "place of worship" (I don't know what they call them) in the town over from my parents in very rural Appalachian Virginia. This is coal mining country, where there is nary a Jew in sight. I secretly suspect it's a training ground. Granted, seems like a dangerous place to rent a storefront and cover it in Stars of David and Hebrew writing, but that's just me! All the locals think they're real Jews. My dad tried to get me to go to shul there, LOL

  3. I've heard of some messianic congregations in rural areas, but the people I Think are really scary are these:
    They're in NY expressly for the purpose of persuading Jews to adopt their beliefs.

  4. Great post, thanks so much for the info! I'm of the understanding that marrying an Israeli citizen who is also a Jew doesn't work to clear the way in terms of citizenship as it would is the spouse is a non-Israeli Jew - is that right?

  5. Katherine, my understanding is that it's a different process, unrelated to the Law of Return. In the case of the spouse of an Israeli citizen (of any ethnicity/faith), there is a different immigration system set up, though it also goes through the Ministry of the Interior (and maybe the Jewish Agency can help things along). In the case that you're American, it actually sounds very similar to the fiance/spouse visa system in the US. It is bureaucratic and may take a significant amount of time. You should also consider that you may not be able to marry in Israel, but a legal marriage performed in another country is valid. This is one method of getting your citizenship.

    However, there is a Law of Return possibility in that even the spouse of an Israeli citizen can qualify for at least some of the benefits offered to new olim. You may even be able to immigrate solely under the Law of Return as an individual (or maybe spouse of an Israeli, I'm not sure). Of course, you have to qualify under the Law of Return :) If that might apply to you, contact the Jewish Agency (or Nefesh B'Nefesh if you're in North America or the UK). NBN's website may also be useful for information purposes, even if you're not in their jurisdiction: http://www.nbn.org.il/

  6. The one year requirement is not always applied. I myself converted and immediately volunteer for service in the IDF. I was taken in in less than two months.

    1. Hi did you convert to conservative reform or orthodox

    2. Hi did You convert to conservative reform or orthodox

    3. I don't know the commenter's movement, but I know of people who have done this from every movement. The year requirement isn't applied evenly, and it seems even less applied if you're willing to make aliyah in spite of the army requirement (which depends on your age). However, everyone I've known to do this was male; the situation may be different for women since their draft requirements are different (and the Rabbinate worries more about female converts since the line passes through the mother).

  7. I thought that the Creator owned all land and created all people. No? Yes? Then what's your pork,,,,I mean beef?