The Real Meaning of ‘Aliyah’
The Hebrew word aliyah 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: the Prophesied “Ingathering” of Israel
Today, Aliyah describes the relatively recent massive influx of Jews to their ancestral land, Israel. They are coming from all over the world, from wherever they have been scattered amongst the nations. The first wave of emigration took place in 1882 and particularly involved Jews from Russia and Romania, and a major wave of immigration occurred after the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 (see graph below). To many, 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 to those who read the Bible it is simply the fulfillment of prophecy:
Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone … and bring them into their own land (Ezek 37.21)
In 2008 the number of Jews living in Israel was more than any other country since the year 70 AD.
Aliyah and Israel’s Law of Return: the Right to Settle in Israel
On 5 July 1950, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the Law of Return, which essentially gave every Jew the right to go and settle in Israel and gain automatic citizenship. The Law of Return was amended in 1970 to clarify the term “Jew” and the application of the Law to family members, link. 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.
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
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.” Operation Magic Carpet 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, in a secret operation that was not made public until several months after it was over.
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.
Hebrew helps the Integration of Immigrants
Taken over a century, the population growth of Palestine/Israel is striking. In 1915 there were just 83,000 Jews but this increased to over 6 million Jews in 2013, link, corresponding to an amazing 7400% increase! In comparison, over the same period the UK population increased just 55%. 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?
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.
Aliyah Continues …
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.
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.
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.
When will aliyah end?
As of 2015, the world Jewish population was 14.2 million, of which 6.2 million (44%) resided in Israel, link. Of those outside Israel, 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)