“They’re not Jews. Some even go to church!”

Israel Chief Rabbi accuses government of letting godless Gentiles immigrate to shift the balance of religious power in the Jewish state.

By David Lazarus | | Topics: Aliyah, Chief Rabbi
Israel Chief Rabbi says Russian immigrants are not real Jews.
Photo: Hadas Parush/Flash90

These are the words of the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef, who went on the attack this week against immigrants who came to Israel from the former Soviet Union. The Rabbi goes on to accuse the government of bringing these largely-secular Russian-speakers into the country in order to tip the scales of religious power against the ultra-Orthodox.

This kind of outburst by a Chief Rabbi of Israel against immigrants is unprecedented (though it’s not the only time of late that he’s stirred controversy), and his political motives are obvious. “Masses of Gentiles who made Aliyah (immigration to Israel) are now voting for anti-religious parties,” Yosef complained. 

He went on to accuse the government of deliberately bringing in Russian immigrants as a means of weakening the political power of the ultra-Orthodox. Those who stand to benefit most are anti-Orthodox parties like Israel Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Liberman, himself an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. 


Are Converts Jews?

The Chief Rabbi also called into question the conversion of many Russian immigrants to Judaism after making Aliyah. Many of these immigrants even went through the conversion process in Orthodox Rabbinic courts under the oversight of Yosef himself. And now he is calling into question their Jewishness, insisting on sterner regulations than the already-strict orthodox requirements to convert. 

Conversions to Judaism outside of the Orthodox Rabbinate are not recognized by the State of Israel. Such is the current political power of the ultra-Orthodox.


Too Many Gentiles in Israel

At a meeting of top rabbis last week in Jerusalem, Rabbi Yosef said: 

“Hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of Gentiles came to Israel because of a Jewish law (his intention being Israel’s Law of Return that allows the grandchildren of a Jew to immigrate). There are many, many Gentiles here, some communists, hostile to religion, haters. They are not Jews at all, but Gentiles. Then they vote for parties against Haredim and religion.”

He later argued that some of the immigrant families also have been “going to church every Sunday, or to a monastery. ” (Learn about monasteries in Israel.)


Rabbi Warned 

Rabbi Amsalem, a former government minister for the Orthodox Shas party, responded with a warning to the Chief Rabbi: “Be respectful, sit at home and shut up! Do not speak of the foreigners and the converts in our midst lest the heavens take care of you and swallow you up.”

While the Chief Rabbi does not speak for all the various of streams of Judaism, his role is supposed to represent Jewish values in the Jewish Nation. 

It appears that the Chief Rabbi’s attacks are a sign that within the Orthodox fold, there are some who are nervous about losing their grip over a growing secular population. Perhaps they feel the need to make divisive statements to stir up their base. 

With new elections on the horizon, the Orthodox are also aware of their need to secure their seats in the Knesset in order to protect their place of prominence within Israeli society.


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