Yshai Amichai
Yshai AmichaiCourtesy

This will serve as the fifth and final segment in a series of articles dealing with citizenship in Israel. In Part I we discussed the demographic dilemma, that there are almost as many Arabs as Jews in the Holy Land, and what this means for Israel. In Part II we discussed the Torah’s Position, reading passages from the Books of Exodus and Numbers. In Part III I offered you a glimpse of my Hebrew book, “The Constitution of Israel” ("חוקת ישראל"), posting a section of that proposed Constitution which deals with citizenship. In Part IV we discussed the philosophical aspects of citizenship. In this part we will discuss the proposed Constitutional clauses of Part III and their practical application in Israel. I will be paraphrasing and quoting those clauses freely without annotation, so for those who wish to view the source, please navigate back to Part III.

“The children of Israel, residents of the Land, are entitled to citizenship” in the State of Israel. But “Israeli citizenship is not guaranteed from birth, and one who requests it must prove himself and earn his citizenship. … A male resident shall be circumcised, pass examinations, swear allegiance, and be counted in the army … To be counted in the army [he] must perform a two-year national service. … A female resident shall pass examinations and swear allegiance .. in addition to national service or marriage to a citizen. … One who requests citizenship shall display a willingness to listen to and obey all the Commandments of the Pentateuch.”

Out of all of the aforementioned, the biggest question should be: Who are the children of Israel? Israel is Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, and his children are entitled to citizenship in Israel. But who can prove he is a son of Jacob these days, proving patriarchal descent from him? And what of the daughters of Israel, must every daughter prove the patriarchal descent of her father to be accepted? This would be counter to the orthodox Jewish view, which is matriarchal, a view that does not align well with the Words of the Torah. The Torah calls them the children of Israel, not the children of Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah. Even the word Jew comes from the tribe of Judah, son of Jacob.

Yet Jewish descent has been matriarchal for so long that how can one be expected to know otherwise? Jewish identity is transmitted through the mother, the father can be whatever, but the son of a Jewish woman will be considered a Jew. If the mother is not Jewish, he will be deemed a foreigner and must convert to Judaism, even if he can prove direct male descent from Jacob. This needs to be changed to restore the original definition of Israel, from the man, Jacob, who came from Abraham and Isaac, and not from his wives, who were Arameans and who assumed his identity, the way women receive the surnames of their husbands.

The orthodox Jewish definition of a Jew is problematic in modern times, when women are allowed to decide who they marry. It allows Jewish women to marry foreign men who are of foreign male descent, while deceivingly calling their sons Israel, and risks excluding Jewish male descendants from the nation, because they then have less opportunities to marry Jewish women. This results in the dilution of the paternal House of Israel. It also gives a false impression of identity. There could be an Israel with the surname Islam, considered a Muslim Arab on his father’s side, but the Jewish congregation will accept him as a Jew and grant him Israeli citizenship. This is even without asking his opinion, as he might have no connection to Israel or to the God of Israel and still be considered a Jew. Such a scenario would not be possible if we kept God’s Commandments, but instead it is a common theme of Jewish identity, most Jews being only trivially Jewish, the way most French are superficially Christian, and even the Jewish State is only marginally Jewish.

“For a citizen regarded as a non-Jew before this clause comes into effect, unless proven that he is from the progeny of Israel from both his parents, his citizenship is hereby revoked, unless he served in the IDF, and on the condition that he complete the conversion process within seven years, as prescribed by law.” According to the proposed Constitution, a non-Jew cannot be a citizen of Israel, unless he is given honorary citizenship. Being a citizen would obligate him to keep the Torah, with all its Commandments, therefore he must become Jewish. But it’s not enough to convert. Conversion does not make him a son of Jacob. Therefore he must first become an absorbed and adopted part of the nation.

“A son or daughter of a citizen man and a citizen woman are entitled to citizenship.” The basic premise of citizenship, as with the basic premise of Judaism, should be that both of your parents are citizens, therefore you are also eligible for citizenship. Anything else would require you to fit into one of the exceptions. “A son or daughter of the progeny of Israel by both their parents, whether they are regarded as Jews or as converts, are entitled to citizenship.” If both of your parents are descended from Jacob, by blood you are Israel. Even if you’re not Jewish and are not a resident of Israel, you need only convert and you will be eligible for Israeli citizenship. But this would require proving direct genetic male descent for your father from Jacob, and direct female descent for your mother from Jacob on her father’s side or from a matriarch on her mother’s side, something that could be hard to prove. Therefore, there is a grandfather clause which says that if your father and father’s father are Jewish, you don’t need to prove your father’s descent from Jacob (and a similar concept for your mother), but this only applies during the present times, because in the future conversion will not be enough to qualify you for citizenship, you will also need to be a legal resident.

“A male resident who has been proven to be a direct male descendent of Israel [Jacob], from father to father for generations, even if he is not regarded to be Jewish, he is entitled to citizenship after legal conversion.” The path to citizenship is easier for a legal permanent resident, as it should be, to help absorb him into the nation. For example, an Arab Muslim resident of Israel who can prove that he is a direct male descendent of Israel, he need only convert to Judaism to be eligible for citizenship. But if he is not a resident of Israel, even if he were to convert to Judaism, in the future that would not be enough, as he would need to first apply for residency.

“A son or daughter of a male citizen and a female convert are entitled to citizenship.” Citizenship at its core is patriarchal, the way that Israel was originally a patriarchal society, but having a Jewish mother is still of vital importance. If your father is a citizen, it doesn’t matter that he resides in a foreign country and married a Jewish convert, you are also eligible for residency and citizenship. But if your father married a foreign woman in that country, meaning you are the son of an Israeli citizen and a non-Jewish woman in a foreign land, you are no longer automatically eligible for residency in Israel. Even if you were to convert, you would still need to apply for residency first. In the opposite case, if your mother were a citizen and your father a convert, you would not be automatically eligible for residency, or for citizenship, should you be granted residency.

“A male resident who is the son of a second-generation male convert and a female citizen or convert, is entitled to citizenship, and a male resident who is the son of a second-generation male convert and a foreign woman, is entitled to citizenship after legal conversion.” Based on passages from the Torah (such as Deuteronomy 23:8-9), the general rule for a resident convert is that his grandson would be eligible for citizenship, but he or his son would not. Therefore, even if he married a citizen wife, their son would not be eligible for citizenship. The Israeli naturalization of foreign men requires three generations. Therefore, he and his son would be considered converts (and would continue to be referred to by the father’s nationality), and only his grandson could become a naturalized citizen.

“A male resident or a female resident, the son or daughter of a male citizen and a foreign woman, are entitled to citizenship after legal conversion. A female resident who is the daughter of a female citizen and a foreign man is entitled to citizenship after legal conversion, and if she is the daughter of a female citizen and a male convert, she is entitled to citizenship.” The three generational naturalization process does not apply to women. The resident son of a foreign woman could become a citizen, and the resident daughter of a foreign man could become a citizen. This equates typically to a two generational naturalization process for foreign women, because a foreign woman would have to marry a citizen or a second generation convert in order to produce citizen offspring.

“A resident daughter of Israel, whose father has been proven to be a direct male descendent of Israel, from father to father for generations, even if she is not regarded to be Jewish, she is entitled to citizenship after she legally marries a citizen. A resident daughter of Israel, who has been proven to be a direct female descendent of one of the many matriarchs of the [Israelite] people, from mother to mother for generations, even if she is not regarded to be Jewish, she is entitled to citizenship after she legally marries a citizen.” Even a seemingly foreign female resident who can prove direct genetic descent from Jacob through her father or direct female descent from a recognized Jewish maternal lineage, can become a citizen merely by marrying a citizen husband, no conversion needed, because she is already considered a daughter of Israel. Marrying a citizen husband is of greater consequence than conversion because it signifies her return to the nation.

“Despite what was stated prior, a citizen who was regarded as Jewish before this clause comes into effect, will remain a citizen, and for one who risked his life to convert to Judaism prior to the commencement of the Third Temple period, the king is authorized to grant him citizenship.” As a reminder, before these clauses come into effect, or before the Temple is built, people will still be granted an easier path to citizenship. One need only convert to Judaism presently and he may become a citizen of Israel, remaining a citizen in the future. People complain about the “stringent” requirements these days, especially those who were born Jewish in foreign lands and feel overwhelmingly Jewish in spirit. They think Israel should be more accommodating, and perhaps even accept reform conversions.

Israel should be more proactive in helping Jews make Aliyah, and it should expand the definition of who is a Jew based upon these clauses, but it should not further reduce the requirements. With time it should only become more complicated, if not impossible, to become an Israeli citizen, so I advise anyone interested to wake up and act now. If you are Jewish or consider yourself a Jew, make Aliyah now, even if this requires Jewish conversion according to orthodox standards. If you are not Jewish, but would like to become a part of Israel, there is a very straightforward and feasible process these days, to become a Jewish citizen of Israel, so do not squander the opportunity.

In the past it was considered something of a curse to be a Jew, and there could be tough times ahead for Israel, but being God’s people should always remain an immense privilege and blessing. When Israel brings itself closer to God, as it must, and observes His Commandments as a nation, Israeli citizenship should become something of a dream for most people, yet one beyond their grasp. Foreigners and converts will visit Israel often, perhaps three times a year, and will even observe God’s Commandments, but residency and citizenship will remain beyond their grasp. Not everyone can become a citizen of Israel, and not just anyone. Israeli citizens will remain a select and Chosen few in the world, to be admired.

Yshai Amichai is a father of six and the author of the Hebrew book, “The Constitution of Israel” ("חוקת ישראל"), and the English book, “The Upright One,” both of which will be made available to the public soon. You may contact him by email: [email protected]