Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) has approved a policy change to its official classifications of the local population that has some pretty significant, if unintended, religious meaning vis-à-vis the connection between Jews and Christians.
Even as Israel’s new government butts heads with the Chief Rabbinate over who has the right to perform conversions to Judaism, and thus determine who is a “Jew,” the CBS is going to start, at least internally, making that determination for itself.
There are today about half-a-million Hebrew-speaking Israelis who qualified to immigrate to the Jewish state under the Law of Return, meaning they had at least one Jewish grandparent. But they don’t qualify to be defined as Jews under Jewish religious law (Halacha).
For a long time, the CBS deferred to the rabbis on this matter and labeled these Israelis, who can’t be called Jews but who also aren’t Arabs, simply as “Other.”
But referring to them in such terms “hurts immigrants who came to Israel under the Law of Return and feel they are part of the Jewish people,” insisted Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) in a recent appeal to the CBS. “Our goal is for these people to join the Jewish people, and not be separated from it.”
The new term the CBS will use to define these people is “extended Jewish population.”
The strictures of Halacha aside, the problem most rabbis have with this decision is that many of these “Jews by extension” practice Christianity. Even those who don’t are typically referred to as “Christians” since they came from Christian countries and are the offspring of intermingling between Jews and Christians.
To be clear, Stern issued his appeal and the CBS rendered its decision in order to bring some half-a-million immigrants and local non-Jews into the fold, as it were, and stop classifying them in a way that could drive them to be less connected and loyal to the state. Full stop.
At the same time, given that the vast majority of those affected by this decision are considered Christians, it has some pretty serious religious significance, intended or not.
Christianity of course was born of Judaism, and is at its core a belief in the promised messiah from the Tribe of Judah. Christians read the same Tanakh (which they erroneously call the “Old Testament”) and revere the same heroes of faith, from Abraham to Moses to David. In short, without the Jews, there would be no Christians.
What’s more, foundational Christian theology as laid out by the Apostle Paul acknowledges that non-Jews who come to faith in the Jewish messiah are grafted into the spiritual tree of Israel. This idea of Gentile Christians being “Jewish by extension” goes back to the very beginning, even if much of the Church has today forgotten it.