In the time of the total assimilation of atheist Jews in the Diaspora, God had to have provided us with a solution. Such solution, like it or not, is the Israeli nation.

Not in the widest sense of citizenship, which would include Arabs and African Muslims, but including the non-halachic Jews who happen to get into Israel. I, too, have plenty of reservations about those Jews by great-grandparent who have more anti-Semitic than Jewish blood. But we have no other feasible choice but to integrate them. The alternative is to push them away, as Yehoshua ben Perahia pushed their spiritual progenitor, and like him they would join Israel’s enemies, her Arab citizens. The non-halachic Jews (more correctly, those who are not halachic Jews) fight Arabs well, but have no reason to eschew the peace process: their relatives did not repeat for generations, “The next year, in Jerusalem,” and they feel no attachment to the hills of Judea. Many atheist Jews (don’t call them secular, they are atheists) feel no attachment, either.

Jews have enormous experience incorporating foreigners: Edomites, Khazars, and huge numbers of non-Jewish wives whom Jewish men converted and married throughout centuries. The current situation is no worse: close to 800,000 substandard Jews and outright gentiles live in Israel. This number includes non-halachic Jews by paternal lineage who came here in the 1980s, halachic matrilineal Jews attached to our nation with a grandmother or even a great-grandmother, and children of many mixed families who entered Israel before then and falsely registered both spouses Jewish. That’s about 17 percent of Israeli Jews; we can deal with that.

First of all, recognize that we have to integrate them. How? Start with patrilineal Jews. Why does the Talmud declare children of Jewish mothers Jewish? Because there was no issue of Jewish father’s children. Think of it: a Jew takes a foreign wife, but the marriage is only religious. So she has to convert before marriage. Not the exhausting modern procedure, just a declaratory conversion. Prior to the wedding, she is already Jewish. This is the twist: Jewish men could not possibly marry non-Jewish women, whether Jewish-born or converted. Therefore the Talmud need not deal with patrilineal descent: there was no doubt that children of Jewish fathers were Jewish.

Not so with Jewish mothers. If, contrary to the commandment, they were given out in marriage to foreigners, they had to convert to their husband’s faith in order to conduct a marriage ceremony, which was only religious. They led a non-Jewish life and worshiped a pagan deity. Talmudic sages realized the situation, yet they pronounced the children of ex-Jewish mothers Jewish. Theirs was the most liberal interpretation: the descendants of even converted Jews are Jewish. Even when mothers effectively parted with Judaism, rabbis still considered their offspring Jewish in the faint expectation that those children—or their children—might one day return to Judaism.

The rule lost practical sense when Christianity forbade conversions to Judaism on the pain of death. Children of mixed families with an ex-Jewish (converted) mother were considered legally Christian and couldn’t return.

Here is the problem: today, Jews who take gentile wives rarely have them converted. With rare exceptions, such families live a gentile life. To live as gentiles, you need not do anything special; it is enough that you do nothing Jewish. Gentile life is not specifically Christianity, but the absence of Judaism. By this definition, most Israeli Jewish families live a gentile life, whether they are mixed or not. A religious Jew might better look not at the ancestry of his prospective spouse, but at her readiness to live a Jewish life.

So we have a good reason for accepting the children of Jewish fathers as Jews. Those with a lone Jewish grandparent or great-grandparent are, in my opinion, not Jewish at all. So well, let’s integrate them as we have integrated other gentiles throughout the ages. There is no alternative: the state of Israel deliberately hides information on the degree of one’s Jewishness, and in practice, Jews-by-grandfather anyway pass as Jews and marry thus.

In the Diaspora or among the cosmopolitan elite, the fate of atheist Jews is clear: they intermarry and dissolve in two generations. The children of Zionist titans such as Herzl, Zhabotinsky and Ben Gurion are totally assimilated. Not so with common Israelis, who have patriotic attachment to the land. Right now, when halachic regulation has become superfluous, we cannot realistically expect them to be religious in the Orthodox sense. Enough that they are patriotic. Such a feeling would allow Israeli Jews to survive as a nation for a generation or two, until a renewed, practical Judaism could be reformulated.

To sum up: Jews got a huge share of atheists so that the traditional religious definition of Jewishness became unworkable. Atheist Diaspora Jews are already lost, and good riddance: by intermarrying, they betrayed their brethren who perished in the Holocaust. Assimilated Jews abrogated their first responsibility to their murdered compatriots, to restore their seed. It’s different with Israeli Jews and semi-Jews: living in a Jewish environment, even the atheists don’t routinely assimilate.

It tests the limits of definition to doubt the Jewishness of paternal Jews who live in Israel, consider themselves Jewish, and fight for Jews. We should content ourselves with the Israeli nation for now, and wait for it to melt back into the Jewish people with a good degree of religiosity.

Definition of Jews, Jewishness, Israeli