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Weekly Update: One people

12 March 2021

The Old Testament contains many promises by God to bring home the twelve tribes of Jacob, and to make them into one nation in the land:

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.’ (Ezekiel 37:21-22)

And that is exactly what He is doing. The fact that so many Jews have returned to Israel from so many countries over the last century or so is nothing less than a miracle, the fulfilment of prophecy. But the practicalities of creating one nation in the land is not without difficulties.

In May 1948, in a day, the State of Israel was created: a Jewish State, expression of the nationhood of the Jewish people worldwide. But that was just the beginning. The idea of a “Jewish State” raises many controversial issues requiring clarification in practice. When is a person Jewish? How does a person become Jewish? Who decides? What about people who live in Israel and want to convert to Judaism? And weddings and funerals?

In 1950, Israel adopted the Law of Return, stating “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh”. In 1970 this was extended to anyone who has a parent or grandparent who was a Jew. Those who settle in Israel under the Law of Return have a right to citizenship. The 1970 law also extended the Law of Return and Israeli citizenship to “converts”, but did not define exactly what conversion means and who can perform it.

On 1st March, the Israeli Supreme Court handed down a controversial judgment in which it ordered the state to recognize individuals who have undergone Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel as eligible for citizenship through the Law of Return. The decision was made following twelve petitions to the court by converts who had been denied citizenship by Israel’s Ministry of Interior, which is controlled by the Ultra-Orthodox.

The justices noted that as long as the legislature has not determined otherwise, those who convert in Reform and Conservative communities in Israel should be recognized as Jews for the purpose of the Law of Return.

The ruling sparked strong reactions across the political spectrum in Israel, and the Jewish world. The Orthodox and those on the right condemned the decision, while many others praised it.

This is just another example of the many challenges facing the Jewish people. A lot remains to be done before the people in the land will be “one nation”. But it is also good to reflect on how much has already been achieved in restoring the Jewish people to the land. And we can be absolutely sure the Lord will complete the work He has started.

As Gentiles in the nations, we can perhaps do little more than remind the Lord of His promise to make the twelve tribes one in the land. And of His promise to send “my servant David who will be king over them”.

The Editorial Team – Israel & Christians Today

Jonah Bob in The Jerusalem Post: “Coming three weeks before elections, [the decision] has now sparked a huge conflagration between Israel’s political parties and the fallout will have ramifications for Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry, in particular the predominantly non-Orthodox US Jewish community.” Read more..

Commenting on the ruling, Daniel Gordis in conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, quotes Rabbi Herzog, who was chief rabbi of Israel at the founding of the state: “ … if they are people who could stay wherever they are, but they want to embrace the Jewish people in its land, they want to come to Israel and live as part of the Jewish people in Israel, “I’m going to call that l’shem shamayim, I’m going to call that ‘for the sake of heaven.’” Read more..

Jason Silverman in Israel Today: “We must find middle ground to stand upon. This means respecting sacred Jewish tradition while allowing for other streams of Judaism to be expressed in our shared public space.” Read more..

 

Scripture for the week: Ezekiel 37:18-27

18 “When your people ask you, ‘Won’t you tell us what you mean by this?’ 19 say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand.’

20 Hold before their eyes the sticks you have written on 21 and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
24 “‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your ancestors lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’”