Tag Archives: aliyah

Retiring in Israel?

israelAbout a month or so ago, my wife surprised me again. She doesn’t do that very often. After all, we’ve been married for over 35 years, so we know each other pretty well by now. However, after the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting and several other antisemitic incidents that made the news, she said if it gets much worse, she’d consider having us move to Israel.

Yes, you could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather.

Her making aliyah and having us move to Israel used to be a dream of mine back in the day, but that was a day when our children were still young and we all would have moved together. My wife and I discussed it and I did a bit of research, but life went on and we never seriously pursued it. My passion for living in “the Land” faded over time, and well, that was that.

Until my wife made her rather earth shattering pronouncement.

She hasn’t mentioned it since, and I haven’t seen her do anything else about it, plus, as my mother ages and her memory continues to deteriorate, the missus has seriously discussed moving my Mom up here from southwestern Utah, and I can only imagine that precludes any further discussion of my wife making aliyah.

To be honest, in addition to my Mom, I don’t think I could make myself leave my grandkids. Oh sure, my son (their Dad) is Jewish and he could make aliyah as well, but I don’t see that in his future, and certainly his ex-wife would prevent their two children from leaving the country on a permanent basis because it would severely inhibit her visitation rights.

But retiring to Israel is an interesting thought. I wasn’t going to write about it, but then, I read an Aish.com article titled Why We Left a Secure Life in the U.S. and Moved to Israel by Rabbi Jonathan Feldman, PhD. Of course, Rabbi Feldman is writing from a Jewish perspective, which doesn’t touch upon what it would be like for a non-Jewish spouse to go through the experience.

I found a news item from 2013 at Haaretz called Does Israel Hassle non-Jewish Spouses?, but it seems more directed at Israeli citizens who marry foreign non-Jews.

At a legal website, I found Aliyah for family members – immigration for non-Jewish nuclear family which was far more informative. The article states in part:

The Law of Return states that “a family member of a Jew” can mean a child or grandchild of a Jew, or the spouse of a Jew, or the child or grandchild to a Jew. The law does not provide for the immigration of other family members, such as siblings or half siblings and grand-grandchildren.

Therefore, if a non-Jewish member of another religion only has a Jewish father, or Jewish grandparents, and does not have a Jewish mother, he or she, would be entitled to immigrate to Israel legally, in accordance with the Law of Return allowing Aliyah for family members. It is important to note that hundreds of thousands of people have made Aliyah to Israel as family members of Jews, despite not being considered Jewish by the law of return, but were eligible for Aliyah as a family member of a Jew.

However, relative to some members of my readership, the article goes on to say:

In fact, in the Supreme Court verdict 2708/06 Steckback v. the Interior Ministry (Court ruling from the 16th of April 2008) it was clearly determined that a Messianic Jew would be entitled to immigrate to Israel, as a family member of a Jew, according to Section 4a(a) of the Law of Return, provided that he or she does not have a Jewish mother.

The same logic would seem to apply to a Messianic Jew/Christian, whose mother converted to Messianic Judaism, or Christianity, or any other religion, before the birth of the person in question. As the mother had converted before the birth of the Aliyah applicant, this individual was not born to a Jewish mother, and would therefore not be defined as a Jew, according to Section 4(b) of the Law of Return.

As I mentioned above, all of this is probably moot. However, my Mom turns 87 this year and although she’s in good physical condition for her age, at some point, she will pass. Also, the grandchildren will grow older, and although I will always love and adore them, they might not need Grandpa and Bubbe as much in ten years. Assuming my wife and I are still alive and healthy then, it’s possible that we may still choose to retire in Israel.

Again, the probability isn’t high, but it’s still non-trivial, so who knows?

But what is life like in Israel for the non-Jewish spouse of a Jew? At this point, I can only wonder.

Sharing with Abraham

The Land of Israel is central to Judaism. It is an intrinsic part of the covenant that God promised to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12), and most events recorded in the Bible took place in Israel.

The mitzvah to live in Israel is based on the verse, “You shall possess the Land and dwell in it” (Numbers 33:53). The Talmud states that “every 4 amot (about 7 feet) that a person walks in Israel is another mitzvah.”

The question, however, is whether this mitzvah is compulsory in our times when the Holy Temple is not standing. This is the basis of a dispute between two great Talmudic commentators, Maimonides and Nachmanides. A leading 20th century sage, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, concludes that living in Israel is a “mitzvah kiyuma” – while it is a great mitzvah, there is no absolute obligation to do so.

from Ask the Rabbi
“Mitzvah to Live in Israel”

I used to want to live in Israel. I gathered together various reading materials related to making aliyah. I often imagined what it would be like to permanently move to the Holy Land. It was a rather romantic notion and it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility. I’m not Jewish, but my wife is. If she made aliyah, it’s not like the state of Israel would deny her just because she was married to a goy. I’d “go along for the ride,” so to speak.

As the years passed, my passion cooled and reality settled in for the long haul. I realized that my wife had no desire to actually live in Israel (though she and my daughter have visited). According to the Ask the Rabbi quote from above, there’s not an absolute obligation for a Jew to live in the Land, so I guess Jews can still choose to live where ever it pleases them.

But reading the article about the mitzvah of living in Israel reminded me of what I wrote yesterday about Abraham, Jews, and Christians. (I decided not to make this blog post part of The Jesus Covenant series since it’s more of a “side note” on the covenant than a direct investigation, however the relationship between this and the “covenant” series is obvious) The giving of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people in perpetuity is part and parcel of the Abrahamic covenant (see Genesis 12). As I outlined in my previous blog post, while one of the conditions of said-covenant provides a blessing to the nations through Abraham’s seed; through the Messiah, that is the only condition of the covenant that applies to Christianity.

In other words, the Land is promised to Israel through the Abrahamic covenant, but that doesn’t translate into Israel also “belonging” to Christians. My wife, as a Jew, has the perfect right to request and receive legal citizenship in Israel while I, a non-Jew, do not, even if I really, really want to live there.

This is sort of a metaphor for a larger set of obligations and permissions vs. human desires that I experience in my little corner of the blogosphere. As much as I may have wanted to live in the Land of Israel at one point in time, that would only have been accomplished in my case, if I accompanied my Jewish wife when she made aliyah. If she never makes aliyah, then I’m staying in the good ol’ U.S. of A. with her. She has the right to make aliyah to Israel. I can only live in Israel because of her being Jewish.

That covers so many other things. We Christians may see the many advantages the Jews have (see Romans 3:1-2) and we tend to want them for ourselves. That’s probably the desire that is at the heart of supersessionism in Christianity. We’ve been taught that every promise God made to the Jewish people has been taken from them and transferred to us, so when we see the beauty of the various aspects of Judaism, the lighting of the shabbos candles, praying the Shema, reading from the Torah scroll in the synagogue (another form of aliyah), we, or at least some of us, want them, too.

Nevermind that a “want” is not a “deserve,” we still want, much like a child in pre-school sees a playmate who has a cool toy, we want it for ourselves. It doesn’t matter if that toy belongs to our playmate. At that age, kids don’t have a terrific understanding of empathy, boundaries, and distinctions. They are very egocentric. If they want something, they take it. It doesn’t matter that the toy belongs to someone else. That’s why pre-school age children need adults to remind them that they can’t have everything they want, even when they see other kids playing with a really cool toy.

When you’re a small child, you think and feel like a small child and there are many things that you don’t understand. We adults are tolerant of this in our children and grandchildren because we know this behavior is a normal stage of development. We gently provide correction and eventually, the child grows and learns. The problem is when people grow up and they don’t learn, and they still keep thinking like children.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

1 Corinthians 13:11 (ESV)

If we don’t develop properly and we cling to childish ideas, we grow up continually mistaking wants for needs and privileges for rights. In the western nations, we are taught to stand up for our rights, and then we believe that everything is a right. Our Constitution guarantees the right to pursue happiness but that’s no promise that we’ll actually attain it. There are a million things in the world we can have and a million things we can’t. It’s no fun facing that fact, but that is the reality of our existence. Some Christians may want all of the advantages of being a Jew, but it is not our right to take them. Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is called stealing.

The Land of Promise was given to the direct, physical descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel and those tribes eventually became the Jewish people. The promises were handed down like a baton in a relay race, from older to younger, down, down across the long generations and to this present day. But each of those runners is a Jew, not a Christian.

That does not mean, in an ultimate sense, that if a Christian finds beauty in Judaism, they are barred from any of the Jewish practices. Many Christians visit their local synagogues and respectfully worship with the Jewish congregation. Many classes are available at those synagogues and anyone, Jew or Gentile, is allowed to attend. No one will object if you choose to light the Shabbos candles on Friday night, or construct a small sukkah in your backyard at this time of year.

It’s like the two metaphorical pre-school children I was talking about before. We can’t just reach out and take what belongs to the other child and pretend that it is ours by right. But we can say something like, “Cool toy. Can I play with it for a little bit?” There is much beauty and joy in the mitzvot of the Jews that can also belong to us. We can feed the hungry, give a thirsty person a drink of water, visit the sick and the prisoner, give to worthy charitable causes, stand out of respect when an elderly person enters the room, and many other things. For those things that belong only to the Jews, some would be ridiculous for a Christian to perform, such as referring to ourselves as “Israel” while davening with a siddur. But there are many others that, even if they don’t belong to us, we can politely ask to share.

I will never live in Israel as a citizen, but someday before I die, I hope to visit and perhaps share in the experience of praying at the Kotel.

The Cheated Convert

The 252nd prohibition is that we are further forbidden from verbally causing emotional distress to a convert, i.e. ona’as devarim.

The source of this prohibition is G-d’s statement (exalted be He), “Do not wrong a convert.” In the words of the Mechilta: “The verse ‘Do not wrong a convert’ means doing so with your words.” This prohibition is repeated a second time, in the phrase “[When a convert comes to live in your land,] do not hurt his feelings.’ “

In the words of the Sifra: “You should not tell him, ‘Yesterday you were an idolater and now you have entered under the wings of the Divine Presence.’ “

Sefer Hamitzvot in English
“Hurtful Words to a Convert”
Negative Commandment 252
Translated by Rabbi Berel Bell

The Interior Ministry has rejected an application for permanent residency by an Orthodox convert, after the Chief Rabbinate informed the ministry it did not recognize her conversion.

After the rabbinate’s decision, the ministry first rejected her aliya application. She does not want her name published.

The woman converted in 2005 under the auspices of the rabbi of one of the oldest established Orthodox synagogues in the US (located in New York). The rabbi is a well-respected Orthodox religious leader.

-by Jeremy Sharon
“Orthodox convert from US ordered to leave Israel”
The Jerusalem Post

I know I’m probably interpreting this all wrong in a Rabbinic sense so I don’t doubt I’ll get some Jewish folks pushing back on my opinion, but I’m getting just a little annoyed at the state of Jewish converts who want to make Aliyah (emigrate to Israel). I’ve never understood the perspective of the Rabbinate on this matter. OK, I understand that they don’t want to grant the “right of return” to a person who may be only marginal in their Judaism and even have ulterior motives for conversion and Aliyah, but once the conversion has been examined and the convert has established some sort of track record of “being Jewish”, isn’t that enough? Beyond a certain point, isn’t the Rabbinate violating the 252nd prohibition (not that it would be seen that way from their viewpoint, of course)?

Besides, there’s another matter to consider.

The decision by the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority to consult the Chief Rabbinate violates a June agreement between authority director Amnon Ben-Ami and Knesset Committee for Aliya, Absorption and the Diaspora chairman MK Danny Danon (Likud).

The agreement stipulated that the ministry would consult with the Jewish Agency regarding the eligibility of Orthodox converts for aliya, instead of the Chief Rabbinate.

This was due to a series of aliya applications by Orthodox converts that were rejected by the rabbinate because it did not “recognize” their conversions.

I guess violating an agreement is different than violating a law or a Torah commandment, but it doesn’t speak well of you if you agree to something and then go back on your word, even if it’s less than an iron clad law written into the penal code. Of course, it’s not like everyone in Israel has suddenly turned against this woman.

She turned to ITIM: The Jewish- Life Information Center, for help, which subsequently appealed the decision to the Interior Ministry. She has been allowed to remain in the country while the case is under consideration.

“We have reached a new low for converts,” ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber said. “The insensitive attitude of the Interior Ministry is unconscionable and counters Jewish tradition which forbids Jews from persecuting converts.

“Converts are exceptionally vulnerable and have nowhere to turn. The Torah mentions being kind to the convert 36 times! “ITIM sued the ministry in June, and we will be forced to do so again if they won’t abide by the agreement. In the past 24 hours ITIM has reached out to Amnon Ben-Ami – who signed the agreement – and has given them the opportunity to rectify the situation without having to involve the court.”

According to a 1988 Supreme Court decision, the criteria determining the aliya eligibility of converts are that the community and rabbi through which they converted must be recognized as legitimate, and that in turn, the community and rabbi recognize the convert as a Jew and a community member in good standing.

Ironically, part of the problem is that this woman converted to Orthodox Judaism. According the the news story, unlike the Reform and Conservative movements, there is no central authority for the Orthodox, which makes it more difficult to confirm the conditions of their conversion and their eligibility for Aliyah. However, this woman’s conversion would seem to be open and above board as I previously quoted from this news report.

The woman converted in 2005 under the auspices of the rabbi of one of the oldest established Orthodox synagogues in the US (located in New York). The rabbi is a well-respected Orthodox religious leader.

Somewhere between God, Moses, the Torah, and the mess of politics and religion in the modern state of Israel (and I admit, I am far from familiar with the maze of its inner workings) lies not just one Jewish convert, but many who either have their applications to make Aliyah reversed or who have their applications completely rejected before they even have a chance to pack their bags and buy a one-way ticket on El-Al to Tel Aviv. I fully confess that this blog post is written with more emotion than information, but I see a great deal of injustice being done in the name of who…God?

Given modern Israeli politics, would even Ruth be admitted to the Land today? What happens when the Mashiach comes? Will he not be Jewish enough for the Chief Rabbinate? He’ll certainly be more Jewish than the vast majority of Christians imagine him to be.

I’ve explored the idea of converting in the past and I’ve even fantasized about living in Israel (even if I never converted, since my wife is Jewish, if she made Aliyah, I could go with her), but something is wrong in Israel today. When is a Jew good enough to be a Jew in Israel as opposed to the rest of the world? God knows, but does the Chief Rabbinate?

Following God isn’t easy for anyone. Certainly making the commitment to convert to Judaism and making Aliyah, committing to living in the Land (which is not always a comfortable place to live) isn’t easy. In fact, it’s fraught with challenges, setbacks, and disappointments as well as the immeasurable rewards for every Jew, convert or not. But to borrow from some of the best that Judaism has to offer, I present this quote from Rabbi Tzvi Freeman (who, for all I know, might agree that the convert mentioned in this story should not be allowed to make Aliyah), who almost always provides me with encouragement by citing the teachings of the Rebbe.

Ultimately, Darkness will meet her end. Our choice lies only in the form of her demise:

If we meet nothing but success at every stage of our mission, Darkness will helplessly surrender, delivering to our hand all the sparks of G‑dliness that she has so jealously held.

When we fail, however, we have taken upon ourselves to wrestle Darkness face-to-face to her utter annihilation. She will not surrender, but no trace will be left of her. She herself will be transformed to light.

And there is no greater light than Darkness herself transformed to light.

Like I said at the beginning of this “extra meditation”, I expect some push back from folks who disagree with my rant and that’s OK. I don’t pretend to understand everything about Israeli politics or the whole process of Jewish conversion and Aliyah. It just seems to me from my generic Goy point of view, that the woman who is the focus of this news article is being treated unfairly. I know the news media isn’t always the best and most accurate source of information (ironically), but it’s all I have to go on.

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