Most of the immigrants to Israel last year were not halachically Jewish, according to figures released this week by the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
Under Israel’s Law of Return, anyone with just one Jewish grandparent is entitled to citizenship and of the 30,300 olim last year, 12,600 were Jewish and 17,700 were not.
The total figure represents a five percent increase on the previous year. However, Aliyah from Britain fell by four percent to 660 compared with the previous year. There was also a large drop – 25 percent – in the number of immigrants from France, with only 2,660 making Aliyah in 2018.
Most of the new arrivals were from Russia and Ukraine, with France and the US taking up third and fourth spots.
Of the almost one million immigrants who arrived in Israel after the Soviet Union collapsed, 400,000 were not halachically Jewish.
This number is increasing every year both due to natural growth and continued immigration, leading to fears in the Orthodox community of a long-term problem of intermarriage between Jewish Israelis and those who are not recognised as such by the rabbinate.
The leader of an Orthodox group which has called for making it easier to convert to Judaism said that Israel was now facing a “demographic crisis”.
British Progressive leaders reacted angrily to reports that Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate and authorities were obstructing the conversion of many of the Olim who arrived in Israel last year.
Rabbi Dr Jackie Tabick, Convenor of Reform Judaism’s Beit Din, told Jewish News: “It is very sad that the Orthodox authorities in Israel have continuously failed to address the need to welcome our brothers and sisters who have come to Israel seeking to affirm and explore their Jewish identity.
“People of Jewish descent moving to Israel should be welcomed and encouraged to find an expression of Judaism that is meaningful to them and to be officially welcomed into the Jewish family. If they seek conversion to Judaism, different routes to that goal should be equally acceptable to the State of Israel”.
Rabbi Danny Rich, the Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism, told JN: “This story demonstrates once again that children of Jewish fathers ought be treated equally to that of children of Jewish mothers since both can show an equal commitment to the Jewish people.
“The rabbinic Orthodox stranglehold on Israeli public life continues to threaten Israel’s democracy and the sooner these religious ‘privileges’ are removed the better for all.”
Meanwhile, Rabbi Shaul Farber, the chairman of the Itim movement and the Giyur Kehalachah independent Orthodox rabbinical courts, said: “Israel is creating a demographic crisis of its own making.
“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 state of Israel.”
“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.
The Israeli Rabbinate and Orthodox parties have for years been blocking attempts to resolve the issue and help these newcomers become Jewish.
For example, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau has suggested passing legislation so that only halachic Jews could be granted Israeli citizenship through the Law of Return.
Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog said: “Every Jew who comes to Israel and establishes a home here completes another piece of the wonderful mosaic of the Jewish people in their historic homeland.
“After 70 years of the state’s independence and the tremendous number of olim who have already made it to Israel, the potential for even greater Aliyah remains significant, and the Jewish Agency will continue to work to achieve that goal.”