Messianic Jews are entitled to Israeli citizenship according to the Law of Return if their father is Jewish, according to a precedent-setting ruling handed down last week by the High Court of Justice.
Fifteen years ago, the court rejected a petition by Messianic Jews who demanded to be recognized as Jews so as to automatically receive Israeli citizenship according to the Law of Return. In that landmark case, the court ruled that Messianic Jews had converted, and therefore were no longer Jewish.
Since then, the state has refused to grant all requests for citizenship according to the Law of Return by Messianic Jews.
Two years ago, however, a number of new immigrants to Israel belonging to the Messianic Jewish community petitioned the High Court after the Interior Ministry refused to grant them new immigrant status and citizenship according to the Law of Return.
These petitioners, represented by attorneys Yehuda Raveh and Calev Myers, argued that they were eligible for new immigrant status and citizenship because they were the offsprings of fathers who were Jewish, not because they themselves were Jewish according to the definition of "Who is a Jew" in the Law of Return.
According to Amendment 4A (a) to the Law of Return, passed in 1970, "The rights of a Jew under this law... are also vested in a child and a 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 defines a Jew as "a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion."
According to Myers, 12 Messianic Jews petitioned the High Court after the Interior Ministry refused to register them as new immigrants in accordance with the Law of Return. Myers said they had received letters stating that they would not receive citizenship because they allegedly engaged in missionary activity.
An article published in the Baptist Press after the High Court ruling was handed down maintained that the court had ruled that "the Messianics should receive equal treatment under the Israeli Law of Return, which says that anyone who is born Jewish can immigrate from anywhere in the world to Israel and be granted citizenship automatically."
But, as was explained to The Jerusalem Post by a legal assistant to Myers, this is apparently a misunderstanding of the ruling, which determined that the petitioners were entitled to automatic new immigrant status and citizenship precisely because they were not Jews as defined by the Law of Return, but rather because they were the offspring of Jewish fathers.