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Two unsettling stories has brought the Law of Return back on the public agenda. One was last week's report of the neo-Nazi gang, most of whose members are not Jewish. The other was Yediot Ahronoth's lead story on Sunday, about "lost Jewish tribes" - many millions of people - who want to immigrate to Israel.

In the absence of a constitution, the Law of Return is the main law defining Israel as the state of the Jewish nation, and establishes the practical meaning of this: free immigration and immediate naturalization. Hence its huge importance.

When the law was enacted in 1950 its drafters decided - astonishingly - not to define "who is a Jew" eligible to immigrate to Israel. According to this concept, each immigrant's Jewish affiliation would be examined individually, not on the basis of general definitions, which often cause individual injustice.

However, the lack of a legal definition enabled interior ministers in turn to impose their own definitions, which ranged from a sweeping secular definition to a sweeping religious one.

Thus 20 years later, in 1970, an amendment was introduced stating that a Jew is a person who was born to a Jewish mother or has converted to Judaism. To avoid harming families whose members were not all Jewish according to the halakha, the amendment said that a child and grandchild of a Jew would also be eligible to immigrate to Israel.

This led to the present situation, in which one Jew's grandchildren, who have no affiliation to Judaism or Jews, immigrate to Israel.

In view of the law's importance, we should overcome our inhibitions and alter it to suit the Jewish identity's national - not necessarily halakhic - character, as is proper in a country that is the Jewish nation's state rather than a Jewish halakha state. (The Zionist adjudicators of Jewish law should also update their halakhic rulings in view of their Zionist views, but this is another issue.)

This means recognizing anyone who has one Jewish parent as a Jew, as far as the Law of Return is concerned. On the other hand, perhaps the law should be altered to prevent grandchildren or other relatives who are not Jews to immigrate to Israel, unless they arrive with the Jewish member of the family, or join him some time after.

Thus the law would deny immigration to grandchildren who have no attachment to Judaism and no Jewish relatives. But this is not enough. The changes would not prevent the immediate naturalization of millions of members of "lost tribes" who would be converted to Judaism by some rabbi, even if they have no connection to the Jewish Nation. The changes would also not deny naturalization to those who may be Jewish themselves, or have Jewish relatives, but whose culture is Christian or neo-Nazi.

A more radical change is required to eliminate the overlap between immigration and naturalization. Those eligible under the Law of Return would continue being allowed to enter Israel immediately, but would be denied automatic citizenship.

They would be naturalized only after tests for their knowledge of Hebrew, Judaism and Jewish history, and then swearing allegiance to the state and its laws. This is a proper procedure for a state that regards citizenship as a right, not as something taken for granted and unworthy of respect.