Israel’s Law of Return allows people with Jewish ancestry to receive Israeli citizenship, but strident religious rules exclude many from the faith itself – some nine million people.
[..] According to the study by Prof. Sergio DellaPergola from the Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University, as of the beginning of 2014, the number of Jews (people born to Jewish mothers) stands at 14,212,800 (a 0.66 percent increase in comparison to 2013). If you take into account those born to Jewish fathers, but non-Jewish mothers, the number rises to 17,236,850.
The number jumps to 22,921,500 when you take into account people who can trace Jewish ancestry three generations back – the maximum allowed by the Law of Return. The definition is similar to the one laid out by the Nazi’s Nuremberg Laws, and is thus understood to be Israel’s response to the threat posed to Jews by anti-Semitism based on racial – as opposed to religious – criteria.
The data will be presented in a conference in Jerusalem’s prestigious Van Leer Institute on Monday as part of an event called Converts, Returnees, and Adherents: New Ways of Joining the Jewish People.
The government passed on Sunday a highly controversial bill overhauling the way conversions to Judaism are handled in Israel, despite objections from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The legislation aims to expand Orthodox conversions in Israel, permitting municipal rabbis to oversee the process which until today was held by a few select facilities, causing massive red tape and what many describe as an exhausting process which prevented many from completing their conversion. The bill passed almost unanimously.
The bill’s sponsor, MK Elazar Stern, from the centrists Hatnua party and himself a religious Jew, made it his mission since entering the Knesset to lead a reform in conversions, and even vowed to quit the coalition should the bill fall. According to him, the current process alienates scores of Israelis from Judaism.
However, to secure the bill’s passage, compromises were made to its content: For example, in the bill passed Sunday, Israel’s Chief Rabbi is put in charge of finalizing all conversion certificates, while the initial bill failed to address the issue.
Regarding the issue of reform conversions, a contentious issue in Jewish politics, the initial law gave it some standing, along with conservative (or masorti) conversion, while the new version makes no mention of either. The new version also reintroduced religious oversight into the process, while the initial bill attempted to make it a purely administrative process undertaken in accordance with religious edicts.