The Times reports on the “elastic” rules — among Israelis and the organizers of the World Baseball Classic — that allow Israel to field a team in the tournament that includes only 3 players from Israel and 25 Americans “with professional baseball experience and Jewish roots, recruited to play for a homeland only a few have visited.”
Accepting Israel’s rules of eligibility (roughly akin to the Law of Return that allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to claim Israeli citizenship), the WBC “required documentation proving a player was Jewish.” As a result,
prospective players and their families were set off on a scramble for supporting evidence. Jews are a people, but the supplied evidence most often tended to be religious. Jake Lemmerman, a promising shortstop in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, produced certificates from his bar mitzvah and his confirmation a year later.
Meanwhile, other teams are — ahem — envious of Israel’s ability to choose from so many American Jews:
“The Israelis have 100 Jewish-American ballplayers to choose from,” [South Africa’s manager, Rick Magnante] said. “I ask you: where’s the level playing field?”
Writing in the Jerusalem Post, my friend Elli Wohlgelernter acknowledges the murky optics of a mostly American Israeli team:
Some American-Israelis deride this squad as not really being “Israeli,” but a team of American ringers bearing about the same relationship to Israel as a “kosher-style” deli does to the real thing.
These purists believe that the term “Israeli” should only apply to someone willing to live and sacrifice (and bunt, steal, and slide) in Eretz Yisrael.
However, adds Elli, the eligibility rules reflect a debate — and a principle — as old as Zionism:
Early Zionists debated whether Israel would be a state of its citizens, or the homeland of the Jewish people.
The argument was settled with its founding: Israel would be both. While Israeli citizenship is qualitatively different from Jewish identity, all you needed was the latter to assume the former.
Jews would get a new (or additional) passport when they immigrated to Israel; if they didn’t immigrate, they and Israel would consider each other part of a global Jewish family.
But if you are eligible for citizenship according to the rules of [the Law of Return] – and these are civil parameters, not halachic, closer to the Nuremberg Laws definition of Who is a Jew than the guidelines of the Torah – then you are automatically part of the family of Jews.