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edmund nasralla

Intersidereal Aliyah And The Law Of Return

by Edmund Nasralla

I. Introduction: The Law of Return before the Age of Colonization[1]

Among the nation states which retained full political autonomy after the beginning of the Age of Colonization, the State of Israel alone maintained a policy of right of abode within its historical borders for the descendants of its citizens and those belonging to the Jewish people. The Law of Return (חוק השבות ), originally passed by the Knesset on 5 July 1950 (20 Tammuz 5710), established that, “Every Jew has the right to immigrate [to Israel]” (section 1). The law was amended several times in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to address questions of definition (who qualifies as a Jew, etc.), to establish rights for family members of Jewish immigrants to the State of Israel, and to curtail certain abuses.

The Age of Colonization and the concurrent establishment of the World Federation of States (Later the Old Earth Federation, henceforth “OEF”) posed, at first, no new legislative problems for the State of Israel. A substantial number of Israel’s citizens emigrated to the new colonies, most of them initially to the first human colony of Terra Nova in the Epsilon Eridani system. These maintained dual Israeli and OEF citizenship, and the first generation of their children were Israeli citizens in accordance with that country’s constitutional law. The expense and large amounts of time required to make the journey between Earth and the first colonies meant that, for all practical purposes, return was impossible. In the first four hundred years of galactic colonization, only fourteen cases of a vessel returning to Old Earth were recorded. Only one of them involved a ship which had reached Terra Nova. Three of them carried Israeli passengers, and although all of them carried at least one self-declared Jewish passenger, none of these passengers subsequently emigrated to Israel. There was consequently no legislation addressing intersidereal aliyah during this period.     

II. The El-Sayed Terminal and the amendment of Federation immigration law

In A.T. 2565, Prof. Geries El-Sayed of the École Polytechnique of France demonstrated the feasibility of intersidereal travel based on the principles of quantum entanglement. The old method of continuous acceleration, which had made the first colonies possible, was rendered obsolete, at least in theory. Another century would pass before the first El-Sayed Terminals could be built.[2]

The prospect of nearly-instantaneous travel between the colonized planets, however, pushed the OEF to propose new laws regulating intersidereal immigration to Old Earth. The Senate feared that an unrestricted right of return to the human home world might have catastrophic legal and economic consequences. The first major waves of emigration were financed by the asset forfeiture of the original colonists to the Federation, something which was very controversial at the time.[3] Would the descendants of such colonists have a legal basis for claiming restitution? What would become of the Old Earth’s economy if it were suddenly flooded with workers and goods from worlds beyond the solar system? The proposed Beskyttelse Act of A.T. 2568[4] stripped all emigrants of OEF and national citizenships on Old Earth and imposed a federal visa requirement for return, even for a temporary visit. All OEF member states, including the State of Israel, were expected to ratify the law.  

Yeshayahu Amsalem, the ceremonial President of Israel and a member of the country’s Orthodox majority, gave an impassioned speech at a plenary session of the OEF Senate in February of A.T. 2570, pleading for an exemption clause for the State of Israel, “…because the land itself is an integral part of the national and religious identity of the Jewish people.” The Beskyttelse Act effectively cut off a part of the diaspora from its ancestral homeland forever, he argued. Amsalem ended his speech with a quotation from Deuteronomy 30:4: “If any of thine that are dispersed be in the uttermost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will He fetch thee.”

Unexpectedly, the Israeli motion was seconded by most Muslim member states. These wanted a similar exemption for those attending the hajj and desiring to visit other Muslim holy sites, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Israel. Even Knesset members representing the Arab citizens of Israel (about 30% of the population at that time) expressed their support. The Holy See also demanded that Christians be allowed to go on pilgrimage to Rome and various holy places on Old Earth, many of which happen to be within the borders of Israel. All these religious exemptions were passed,[5] in part because the OEF considered their implementation as a far distant—and in A.T. 2570 almost non-existent—problem.  

III. The Law of Return in the Age of Colonization

a. Before A.T. 2894

Many Jews subsequently entered Israel under the provisions of amendments §1-3 of the Beskyttelse Act. There were 300-1000 cases of intersidereal aliyah per year from the beginning of the twenty-ninth century. By that time, several important developments had occurred both in Israel and in the intersidereal Jewish diaspora.    

The Law of the Return was amended (amendment 5, A.T. 2730) to make being halakhically Jewish a requirement for immigration, with the authority for determining this being given to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. This amendment, the greatest restriction on Jewish immigration to the State of Israel ever imposed, essentially codified the jurisprudence surrounding the Law of Return at that time. The change caused less protest In Israel than might have been expected. The Orthodox majority had increased substantially by A.T. 2700, so that non-orthodox Jews (including all “hilonim”, or secular Jews) made up only 15% of the citizen population.  

The number of people of Jewish heritage living in the colonies officially outstripped the number of those on Old Earth in A.T. 2812. Most traced their ancestry to emigrants from the former United States or Europe, but a substantial minority (20%) had roots in Israel. Jewish emigrants established the New Haifa settlement on Terra Nova in A.T. 2692. Within two hundred years, it became one of the most important cities on Terra Nova and one of the largest in all the settled worlds. Quite unexpectedly, Terra Nova Hebrew[6] emerged as a lingua franca in the city, eventually becoming the main language used by the city’s non-Jewish majority.

The nature of Jewish religious observance in the colonies (usually quite secular) began to change dramatically after A.T. 2860. In that year, a religious movement, “The Numbered” (הממוספרים), began to rise to prominence on Terra Nova, led by a certain Moshe Glanz, known to his followers as “The Numberer” (הממספר).[7] Glanz, an obscure figure who does not appear to have been an observant Jew until his early thirties, declared himself to be Moshiach. He was initially dismissed by most of his contemporaries, but soon gained a following thanks to several purported miraculous healings which he worked in and around New Haifa. He was a gifted orator and polyglot who had managed to acquire an encyclopedic knowledge of Jewish writings. By A.T. 2894 his movement had grown to around three million followers on several colonized worlds.  

b. Glanz et al. v. The Minister of the Interior (A.T. 2894)

Glanz had a peculiar interpretation of Olam Haba, the complex eschatological concept in Judaism of an ideal “world to come”. The Numberer declared that, as Moshiach, he alone could bring it about. To do so, he needed to “return”, together with all his followers, to the Land of Israel. Nearly a million Numbered attempted to enter Israel en masse in A.T. 2893, seeking citizenship under the Law of Return. They were denied permission, and thus could not obtain an OEF visa. The Numbered were denied citizenship by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior on the basis of an A.T. 1970 amendment to section 4A of the Law of Return, which stipulated that a Jew who voluntarily changes his religion loses the automatic right to Israeli citizenship. As the Numbered were considered converts to a different religion, they could not be granted citizenship.   

Glanz and his followers sued the following year, calling the decision by the Minister of the Interior illegal under the Basic Law of Israel. The Numbered were not members of a different religion, it was argued. To maintain the contrary position would be to define Judaism as a religion which does not believe in the possibility of the coming of Moshiach, Glanz’s claim in this regard being the only argument for considering his followers to be apostates. The court found against the Numbered. Glanz then appealed the decision to the OEF. A lower court refused to adjudicate the case because it did “not think itself competent to legislate questions of religious identity”, thus allowing the Israeli decision to stand.  

c. After A.T. 2894:

Glanz died under mysterious circumstances before his appeal could be heard by the OEF Supreme Court. The Numbered decreased in size after his death, though the members who remained became increasingly influential and devoted to the cause of their founder. Many of them continued to believe that Glanz was still alive, but in hiding, and considered their immigration to Israel as a religious duty to prepare the way for his reappearing. It is estimated that 350,000 Numbered acquired Israeli citizenship over the next decade by dissimulating their membership in the movement. This led to an amendment to the law of Return (amendment 7, A.T. 2910) which provided for the expulsion of Numbered who had obtained citizenship fraudulently. The amendment proved impossible to enforce, however, as it was exceedingly difficult to prove membership in the Numbered because of their commitment to secrecy.  

Glanz’s movement led to a renewed interest in Zionism and a certain popular revival of Jewish religious observance among the intersidereal diaspora, especially the observance of Shabbat, for which some Orthodox rabbis now consider the Numberer to have been a Tzadik. Today, though the Numbered are essentially extinct as an active religious force, millions of Israelis claim to be descended from them. Some historians trace the political motivations for the last amendment to the Law of Return (amendment 8, A.T. 3126, a repeal of the restrictive amendment 5) to their latent influence.

[1] This piece was originally published in Old Earth: An Encyclopedia of Terrestrial Human History, as part of the entry “Israel, State of”, Vol 321, col. 47-269, New Haifa University Press (New Haifa, Terra Nova: A.T. 4731). It is republished here in an adapted form with the kind permission of New Haifa University Press.

[2] For an exciting and often humorous account of the first successful El-Sayed terminal trip between Old Earth and Terra Nova, see: Marion Flanders, A Small World After All: The First “Baton” Terminal and the Age of Colonization, New Haifa University Press (New Haifa, Terra Nova: A.T. 3127).     

[3] See: Gideon McArthur (ed.), When You Look at the Stars, Remember Me: The First Colonists of Terra Nova in Their Own Words. New Haifa University Press (New Haifa, Terra Nova: A.T. 4491).    

[4] OEF-Gesetzhandbuch 407.62. The law, meaning “protection”, is so named because it was originally proposed by the Norwegian delegation in the Senate.  

[5] Ibid., Zusatzartikel §1-9.

[6] This dialect preserved aspects of Modern Hebrew for centuries after they had been lost or changed on Old Earth. Some of its salient features are a high usage of English loan words, pronunciation of “ר”as a uvular fricative, and an SVO word order. Old Earth Modern Hebrew, under the influence of Classical and Levantine Arabic, eventually moved to a rhotic “ר” and adopted a more frequent use of the VSO word order, making it more similar to Classical Hebrew. See art. “Hebrew” in Old Earth, vol. 296, col. 1121-1834.

[7] The name of the sect and its leader were a reference to God’s command to Abraham in Genesis 15:5 to “number the stars”. See art. “The Numbered” in Old Earth, vol. 428 col. 76-99. 



Edmund Nasralla is an American writer living in Europe. His job requires him to think often about religious questions. Occasionally, it also leaves him time to number the stars. This is his first published piece.

Philosophy Note:

Israel’s Law of Return has always fascinated me because of its implications for the question of Jewish identity. What, precisely, makes one a Jew? What is the relationship between ethnic Judaism and religious observance? These questions are complicated here on Earth, and are debated within Israel. How would Jewish identity change in an age of human expansion to other planets. What would happen if the Law of Return were tested, in the distant future, by a form of Judaism which had developed on another world?
On a larger scale, I am intrigued by the notion of colonized planets eventually surpassing Earth in population. How would the nations of our planet deal with the issue of people wanting to “move back” to an ancestral home world that they have never known? Could there be something like a human Law of Return for Earth generally?