This week, a small bureaucratic shift in policy spoke volumes about this
government's - and the Jewish people's - failure in facing the most difficult
and arguably most dangerous threat to Jewish continuity: the pitiless calculus
On Sunday, the cabinet voted to transfer the power to approve entry into
Israel for mass conversions and aliya from the hands of the interior minister to
the government as a whole. From now on, those wishing to convert and make aliya
as groups - such as the Bnei Menashe tribe of northeast India - will need their
entry visas approved at the weekly meeting of the entire government before they
can enter the country to begin the conversion process.
This change, quietly initiated by Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit himself,
seeks to throw an almost impassable obstacle in the path of those groups who
claim Jewish descent and wish to rejoin the Jewish people.
The decision was taken without public discussion, is based on a
misunderstanding of the basic issue, and seems almost incomprehensibly
misguided. It is difficult to imagine a more obviously counterproductive and
faulty decision by Israeli leaders.
First, the Jewish status of these so-called "lost Jews" - probably not
Sheetrit's overriding concern in the first place - is unquestionable. The
haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate has long welcomed them as people of Jewish
descent who should be brought back into the fold. As a condition for coming to
Israel, groups such as the Bnei Menashe tribe undergo the rigorous conversion
process of the Chief Rabbinate, a process long criticized by The Jerusalem Post
as impossibly stringent and religiously partisan. Almost all adopt observant
In the case of the Bnei Menashe, against whom this decision is apparently
predominantly directed, their young men not only serve in the IDF, but have
volunteered for the army's strictly religiously-observant Nahal Haredi combat
Second, it seems absurd that while Israel has welcomed with open arms an
estimated 300,000 non-Jewish relatives of Jews from the former Soviet Union,
many of whom continue to maintain their Christian faith or atheist convictions,
the interior minister seeks through under-handed bureaucratic barriers to stop
the flow of Jewish converts who have proven their commitment.
The Bnei Menashe tribe holds to an oral tradition that claims descent from
Menashe, one of the tribes of Israel exiled and lost to Jewish history following
the Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE. Doubt as to the
authenticity of these origin claims has led hundreds of tribesmen to undergo a
formal conversion in order to move to Israel.
Third, one of the keys to Jewish continuity must be the renewal of
conversion. This newspaper has called in the past for efforts in this regard,
and has seen the Chief Rabbinate's cumbersome and oppressive supra-halachic
conversion process as one of the major stumbling blocks. Here, however, it is
the Chief Rabbinate that warmly embraces the "lost Jews," and Israel's secular
interior minister who has created the problem. Now, it would appear, even people
who go through the unreasonably stringent conversion process will be kept out.
The logic behind this is hard to take at face value. It is reminiscent of the
kind of discussion directed against North African Jewish refugees in the 1950s,
when even liberal newspapers urged the government not to bring in these
"undesirable" olim, but to focus on young halutzim [socialist pioneers] who
could be shaped by the Jews already living in Israel.
Are Sheetrit and his colleagues worried about foreign-looking dark-skinned
people running around the country? Surely not. Are they worried by the potential
arrival of a few thousand religious, perhaps right-wing, voters? Again, surely
Since no other explanation is forthcoming from the cabinet - the government
has tried to slip this decision through without mention - we suspect that
less-than-legitimate reasons lie behind it.
Why, then, would a country nervous about its collapsing demographics take
steps to keep out those who have already proven that they are committed Jews and
Israelis? Enlighten us, please.
Copyright Jerusalem Post 2007