When Is a Jew Not a Jew?
June 1993By John Warwick Montgomery
The Rev. John Warwick Montgomery, a Lutheran, is a practicing barrister and Reader/Professor-elect in Law and Human Rights at Luton College in England.
Answer: when he is a Messianic Jew. According to Israeli law, a Jew ceases to be a Jew for purposes of immigration to Israel when he embraces another religion, in particular Christianity. The occasion for treating the question here is an Israeli Supreme Court judgment of July 2, 1992, consolidating several appeals by Messianic Jews in Israel to remain in the country after having been informed that they could no longer do so. As an international human-rights specialist, I was recently asked by those representing the appellants to advise on the case.
Three Jewish families were involved in the long-term legal hassle that eventuated in the July Supreme Court decision. The Beresfords, husband and wife, arrived in Israel from Zimbabwe on tourist visas in 1986. On petitioning for immigrant status pursuant to the Law of Return -- which automatically provides residency for ethnic Jews or Jewish converts -- they were informed that, even though they were indeed Jews by birth, they could not immigrate under the Law of Return because they believed Jesus to be the Messiah. In maintaining such a belief, the Beresfords had adopted "another religion," and had fallen under the axe of section 4B of the Law of Return, which defines who is entitled to benefit from that Law, specifically, "whoever was born to a Jewish mother or has been converted to Judaism, and who does not belong to another religion."
Sidney and Linda Speakman and their minor daughter, Dawn, came to Israel in 1988 from Portland, Oregon, where they had opposed the right-wing, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic activities of the Pike organization and had been threatened with physical harm as a consequence. Like the Beresfords, they entered Israel as tourists and later attempted to obtain permanent residency under the Law of Return. As Messianic Jews, the parents were informed that their petition could not be granted, but that their daughter could receive Israeli citizenship, since when she was born her mother had not yet regarded herself as a Messianic Jew -- i.e., the daughter had been a minor when her parents became Messianic Jews (sec. 4A[a] of the Law of Return). The Speakmans argued that it was unthinkable for the family to be split up in this manner, that they had established a productive building-construction business in Israel, and that "we came only to live in Israel and to help build up this land": all to no avail; appeal denied.
The story of the Kendall family was similar. Only the four Kendall children may remain in Israel. The parents, because of their Messianic convictions, must leave -- with or without them.
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