Jews around the world are experiencing a rise in antisemitism on a scale not seen in nearly 80 years. As such, it is deeply disturbing to see members of Israel’s likely new governing coalition advancing an effort to shun those worldwide who identify as Jews, including those who are fleeing horrific violence, persecution, and discrimination based on their Jewishness, either through revoking recognition of Reform, Conservative, and modern Orthodox conversions or abolishing the Law of Return’s grandchild clause.
As the negotiations are well underway for Israel’s next governing coalition, we are deeply concerned about threats to overturn the Israeli Supreme Court ruling recognizing non-Orthodox conversions in Israel and the Diaspora through the modification of the Law of Return to prevent non-halakhic Jews from immigrating to Israel or the passage of a new law granting the rabbinate a monopoly regarding conversion in Israel.
The “grandchild clause,” inserted in 1970 to the Law of Return,1 was included not only to encourage interfaith couples to make aliyah, but also to ensure that any person who would have been subject to persecution, arrest, internment, and death under the Nuremberg laws’ definition of Jewishness would subsequently be afforded the protection of the Jewish state. It would be a true hillul hashem (a desecration of God’s name) to refuse refuge to Jews in need and betray the vision of Israel's founders.
The proposed removal of the grandchild clause from the Law of Return by the Religious Zionism Party is offensive and a serious violation of the sacred bond the State of Israel has established with Jews around the world. The State of Israel must continue to be a safe refuge that will welcome all members of the extended Jewish family who are persecuted or just want to live their lives in Israel, contributing to the vibrancy and growth of a modern Israel in their ancestral homeland.
Not only would this proposal cause a huge rift between Israel and Diaspora Jewry; it would also undermine a point of pride for the Israeli government, which has welcomed thousands of Jewish Ukrainian refugees to Israel - many of whom qualify based on this critical grandchild clause.
In March 2021, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that anyone who converts to Judaism in Israel under the auspices of the Reform and Conservative movements must be recognized as a Jew for the purpose of the Law of Return and is thus entitled to Israeli citizenship. Changing the Law of Return or passing a new Conversion Law limiting the recognition of conversion to only those whose conversion was sanctioned by the state could completely destroy the decades-long process that led to this critical ruling, barring Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel. This would estrange hundreds of new immigrants from Judaism and could leave many without status or citizenship.
As a Zionist Movement, we affirm the critical importance of Israel as the home of the entire Jewish people – those who were born Jewish and those who became Jewish by choice. We affirm the national ideal of Israel as the homeland of all Jews and a haven for all who identify with the Jewish people.
As the largest Jewish Movement in North America, we call on the incoming Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to reject any proposals to alter the status of non-Orthodox conversions — both in Israel and abroad — and ensure that any changes to the Law of Return are not considered as part of the negotiations.
According to the Law of Return, naturalization rights are afforded to anyone who has one Jewish grandparent. In 1970, the following amendment was issued:
 “The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an Oleh under the Nationality Law, 5710 - 1950, as well as the rights of an Oleh under any other enactment, are also vested in a child and grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.”
The Law of Return, 5730-1970: 2nd Amendment
As Prof. David Ellenson and Adv. Nicole Maor wrote:
“In issuing the amendment to the Law of Return, the Knesset circumvented the halakhic definition of “who is a Jew” and granted eligibility for immediate Israeli citizenship to non-Jewish spouses of Jews as well as to the progeny of even one Jewish parent or grandparent and their spouses. This amendment to the Law of Return gave expression to the national ideal of Israel as the homeland of all Jews and a haven for all who share in Jewish destiny by virtue of their identification with the Jewish people.”
(Journal of Israel Studies Volume 27, Number 2)
Union for Reform Judaism
Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman (she/her)
Rabbi Rick Jacobs (he/him)
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Lewis Kamrass (he/him)
Rabbi Hara E. Person (she/her)
American Conference of Cantors
Cantor Seth Warner (he/him)
Rachel Roth (she/her)
Chief Operating Officer