When the State of Israel was founded more than 50 years ago,
one of the important functions that it served was as a home
for hundreds of thousands of displaced Jews in Europe.
Unwilling to settle in the Europe that was the repository of
so many bitter memories, the hundreds of thousands who still
lived in Displaced Persons camps in Europe were absorbed into
the new State of Israel after its founding in May, 1948.
The legal basis for their coming was the Law of Return, which
states that any Jew has the right to come to Israel as an
oleh, and that every oleh is an Israeli
The law was amended in March, 1970 to clarify that, for the
purposes of the law, a Jew is anyone who was born of a Jewish
mother or converted to Judaism. Those amendments provided
that non-Jewish spouses, children and even grandchildren of
Jewish olim are also entitled to all the rights and
privileges of the olim themselves.
When the law was originally passed, this law expressed the
Jewish character of the new state by declaring that the State
of Israel is the legal home of every Jew in the world. All he
or she had to do was to come to live here.
The hundreds of thousands in the DP camps of Europe, and
perhaps hundreds of thousands more in the Arab lands of North
Africa and the Middle East, wanted to come and fast. They
were seen as living in distress, and turning to the State of
Israel as a haven. The Law of Return provided a simple, no-
fuss legal basis for their arrival and integration in
Nowadays, boruch Hashem, there are no major Jewish
populations in distress around the world. No one moves to
Israel these days to escape persecution for being Jewish.
The clauses that seemed thirty years ago to provide only a
small loophole for the entry of non-Jews, now loom very
large. Thirty years of widespread intermarriage and
assimilation had a devastating demographic effect on the
populations that come under the welcoming umbrella of the Law
According to Professor Sergei Della Pergola of the Hebrew
University, a leading Jewish demographer, for every Jew left
in the former Soviet Union, there are three to four non-Jews
who are fully eligible to come. In numerical terms, this
means about half a million Jews and some two million non-
Jews! If they all come it would have a significant and
terrible impact on the Jewish character of the population of
The eligible non-Jews are coming. According to official
statistics, their proportion of the immigrants increased in
the past five years from about 15% to almost 30%. Remember,
these are immigrants who are officially listed as non-Jews,
and the figures do not count those who obtain forged identity
papers that list them falsely as Jewish.
Lest one think that this is the main problem, we note that
Professor Della Pergola said recently that the situation in
America is similar. The ravages of assimilation and
intermarriage have certainly not left it untouched.
The Law of Return no longer holds out the promise of a safe
haven to anyone. If there is ever, chas vesholom, a
need to rescue a Jewish community by bringing them here
quickly, it is always possible to pass special legislation,
as America, for example, did for Soviet Jews. So there is no
need to preserve the Law of Return to provide a refuge for
In our day and age the Law of Return can also not be said to
be an expression of the Jewishness of the State, when it
applies to more non-Jews than Jews.
The Law of Return is an anachronism that should be