Aliyah: Mass Jewish Immigration to Israel
Let’s look at the facts: the population growth of Palestine-Israel is striking. In 1915 there were just 83,000 Jews but this increased to nearly 6.5 million Jews in 2017, link, corresponding to an amazing 7700% increase! In comparison, over the same period the UK population increased just 55%. By 2017 Israel’s population stood at a record 8,680,000. This is a 10-fold increase compared to when Israel was founded in 1948.
We can see this as a pretty unusual growth of a young nation. Certainly, the amazing and unprecedented return of a people that has survived extremely violent attempts at their extinction is a baffling phenomenon unmatched in the history of mankind. But those who study Bible prophecy see this phenomenon as the fulfillment of prophecy, as in:
Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone … and bring them into their own land (Ezekiel 37.21)
Jews are coming from all over the world, from wherever they have been scattered amongst the nations. The first wave of immigration started in 1882 and particularly involved Jews from Russia and Romania. By 2008 the number of Jews living in Israel was more than any other country since the year 70 AD.
Waves of Jewish Immigration
In historical terms, aliyah is a relatively recent phenomenon. It’s as though Ezekiel’s prophecy has just been implemented after lying dormant for thousands of years! Since the end of the 19th century there have been a number of waves of immigration, often initiated by severe political and social unrest. Most of the early immigrants to Israel-Palestine were young halutzim (pioneers), who built roads and towns and commenced the draining of marshes. Their ideology contributed a great deal to the reconstruction of Israel.
The so-called “first aliyah” (1882 to 1903) was a wave of about 30,000 Zionist immigrations mostly from Eastern Europe, Russia and the Yemen. Another wave of about 40,000 Jews came between 1919 and 1923. This was triggered by the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, anti-Semitic pogroms in Eastern Europe, the British occupation of Palestine, and the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
Between 1929 and 1939 some 225,000 to 300,000 Jews arrived from Europe and Asia. This wave of immigration began as a pioneering one, but with the onset of racial persecution in Nazi Germany attained the character of a mass migration between 1933 and 1939. A major wave of immigration occurred after the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 (see graph). So the late 1940’s and early 1950’s saw large-scale waves of immigration from Arab countries primarily from Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Some 260,000 Jews immigrated despite the necessity of leaving their property behind, link.
The Real Meaning of ‘Aliyah’
The immigration of Jews to Israel (Hebrew: Eretz) from all over the world is widely known as “aliyah”. This Hebrew word translates as “elevation”, “ascent” or “going up.” It refers to going up to Jerusalem. It is true that Jerusalem is located on a plateau in the Judean Mountains at an altitude of 760m (2,490 ft), but that is not the primary meaning here. When Jesus (Yeshua) talked about “going up to Jerusalem” (Lk 18.31) He was referring to deeper things than hill-climbing!
Jews regard aliyah as “moving up in holiness”. It refers to moving to the land given to them by God through Abraham, link, with a real purpose. Because of their ancestral connection they see this land as the most suitable place to relate to and connect to God. They see it as the primary place to lovingly engage in the observance of God’s commandments. In other words, to go there is to be elevated to a higher spiritual level. The term reflects Micah’s prophecy, when many nations will soon say:
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD (Mic 4.2)
Aliyah and Israel’s Law of Return
Who has the Right to Settle in Israel?
On 5 July 1950, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the Law of Return. Subject to certain security conditions, this Law gave every Jew in the world the right to go and settle in Israel as an ‘oleh’ (a person who makes aliyah: pl. olim). The Law of Return was amended in 1970 to clarify the term “Jew” and the application of the Law to family members. In particular, for the purpose of this Law, “Jew” means a person who was born of a Jewish mother (the father can be a non-Jew) or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion (see later). This Law opened up Israel to Jews from over 60 countries.
DNA Test of Jewishness: In the future the Israeli State may use genetic tests (DNA) to determine whether potential immigrants are Jewish or not. This would demand a rethinking of the Law of Return regarding the definition of Jewishness, link. See also Defining a Jew.
Citizenship: Under Israel’s Citizenship Law -1952, Israeli citizenship is granted by eligibility under the Law of Return (other routes to citizenship are possible).
Discrimination against Non-Jews?
Israel does not have laws and regulations enabling foreigners to settle in Israel, link. So critics argue that because the Law of Return favors Jews, then it is undemocratic and discriminatory. They argue that Israel should grant a similar right of return to Palestinian refugees who wish to return to their homes in Israel prior to the 1948 war. But, according to Article 5 of the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, link, the territory of Palestine was exclusively assigned for the Jewish National Home. So the bestowal of a “right of return” to non-Jews or to persons without a Jewish relative is illogical and contradicts the concept of the Jewish State.
Discrimination against Messianic Jews
Today there is much discussion over the right of Messianic Jews to make aliyah under the Law of Return, link, link. To reiterate, the 1970 amendment to the Law of Return added the following clause, link:
For the purposes of this Law, ‘Jew’ means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion
In 1989 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that Messianic Judaism constituted another religion, and that people who had become Messianic Jews were not therefore eligible for Aliyah. As of 2015 it is claimed that this ruling still holds and that Jews who seek to make aliyah are forced to answer the question, “Have you ever been a Messianic Jew or have you ever believed in Yeshua as Messiah?”. In defense of this ruling, some religious Jews claim that since Jewish followers of Yeshua are obligated to spread the gospel about Yeshua to other Jews, they are promoting worship of and allegiance to a false deity, link. On the other hand, a poll of Israeli Jews at the time of the 1989 amendment was in favour of Messianic Jews making aliyah.
Rejection of Messianic Jews continues: In 2016 the chief rabbi of Ashdod claimed that Messianic Jews are “worse than Hitler”, whilst another rabbi called them “The Cult of the Messianic Jews”, link.
Aliyah from Yemen, Ethiopia, India and states of the former Soviet Union
Operation Magic Carpet: One of the first major projects of the first prime minister of the State of Israel, David Ben Gurion, was an incredible operation called “Operation Magic Carpet.” This occurred between June 1949 and September 1950 and brought 49,000 Yemenite Jews to the newly founded State of Israel. The returning Jews were airlifted to Israel by British and American transport planes that made some 380 flights. It was a secret operation that was not made public until several months after it was over.
Operation Moses (1984): Another covert operation – this time the evacuation of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan during a civil war that caused a famine. Sudan secretly allowed Israel to begin transporting refugees, until word leaked out and the operation was suspended for fear of hostile reaction from Arab states. By mid-1984 some 8,000 Jews had been flown from Khartoum [Sudan] to Europe and from there to Israel.
Operation Solomon (1991): Later, mass immigration included Jews from Ethiopia and Russia. About 14,000 Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel in the “Operation Solomon” air-lift in 1991, and about 100,000 Jews came to Israel from the countries of the former Soviet Union, link. More recently, a tribe called the Bnei Menashe in India has maintained their Jewish roots and believe they belong to the lost 10 tribes. In 2014 some 7,000 returned to their ancient homeland.
This short video encourages, uplifts and inspires people to visit God’s land and people, Israel. It may also encourage some to make aliyah to Israel and make a new life there.
Between 1989 and 2010, more than 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union (FSU) made their home in Israel, but there are still many to aliyah. In 2013 the estimated Jewish Population of the FSU totaled 1.71 million, of which there were 600,000 in Russia itself, link. As of 2015, there were still 1.4 million Jews in Europe despite a sharp decline over recent decades, link, and in 2013 there were still over 4 million practicing Jews in the US, link.
Today, Zionist organizations like The Jewish Agency and WZO continue to oversee aliyah, immigration, settlement and education. This is Israel’s official network of organizations that help returning Jews get installed in Israel. In 2015 over 30,000 olim immigrated to Israel using the Jewish Agency services.
When will Aliyah End?
As of 2017, the world Jewish population was 14.3 million, of which nearly 6.5 million (44%) resided in Israel, link. Of those outside Israel, some 5.4 million live in the USA, over 0.4 million live in France, nearly 0.4 million live in Canada and nearly 0.3 million live in the UK (Jewish DataBank, 2013). So, according to prophecy, significant aliyah can be expected from the western nations in the foreseeable future. Looked at simplistically, prophecy indicates that virtually all these Jews will emigrate to Israel. In the context of Israel’s restoration, God says:
I am the LORD their God, who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their own land, and left none of them there any longer (Ezek 39.28 emphasis added)
Hebrew helps the Integration of Immigrants
Today, Israel is home to Jews from nearly 100 countries, each with their own culture and language. So how could such a diverse population be quickly integrated into one nation, especially since many olim come to Israel without a knowledge of Hebrew?
The answer lies in the national language. Since the declaration of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948, Hebrew has been an official language of Israel. In 1916, only some 40% of the Jewish population spoke Hebrew, but today Hebrew is spoken by some 90% of those who who arrived before 1989, link, link. It is used throughout society, in schools, universities, commerce, government and the media. In fact, the restoration of biblical Hebrew to a modern day spoken language is a unique historical phenomenon, link – a modern miracle.
So the rapid integration of diverse cultures is achieved by requesting that all new immigrants learn Hebrew. The is achieved through absorption centers and by following intensive Hebrew Language Programs run by The Jewish Agency, like Ulpan, link. Ulpan is designed to teach adult immigrants the basic language skills of conversation, writing and comprehension, with the objective of helping new citizens to be integrated as quickly and as easily as possible into the social, cultural and economic life of their new country.
New immigrants and returning citizens of Israel from all over the world can find support (such as career counselling and free legal aid) from organizations like KeepOlim.
Help from Christian Groups
Several Christian organizations are helping Jews return to their homeland. One such group is Ebenezer Operation Exodus . This UK-based international, interdenominational Christian organization has helped organize transport by sea and air to Israel for more than 140,000 Jewish people sponsored by The Jewish Agency. Many of these came from the Former Soviet Union.
A Jerusalem-based Christian organization, Bridges for Peace, runs Project Rescue and Project Tikvah. Project Rescue helps the poorest Jews prepare to immigrate to Israel, and Project Tikvah helps sustain those who cannot go, the elderly and the sick. Help is in the form of passport costs, visas, ground transportation and lodging. The work started in Russia and regions of the Former Soviet Union.
Aliyah is Prophecy being Fulfilled
Just as a father leads his little child, so God is leading His people back to Israel. For a time rebellious Israel was forsaken by God and they were scattered (like dry bones) amongst the nations. But Ezekiel the prophet saw a valley of dry bones that became alive as God brought His people back to their own land.
In these last days God is reaching out to His people and wants to blot out their sin and unite them with Himself. He is calling His people out from the nations, back into their own land, the land of Canaan. Jews call this ingathering or mass immigration back to their own land ‘aliyah’ or ‘ascent’. It has been underway now for over 100 years, drawing in over 8 million people. The Gentile nations cannot help but see an amazing thing: a nation restored almost overnight. It is a very clear sign that the God of Israel is working in the world! Today, Israel is back in their homeland and is once more becoming an increasing witness of God to the nations:
He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12)