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Hebrew term for Jewish immigration to Palestine.

The Hebrew word for "ascent," aliyah (also aliya ) is the term used in both religious tradition and secular Zionism to refer to Jewish immigration to Palestine. Within those ideological frameworks, emigration from Israel is called yeridah (descent).

During the almost two-thousand-year absence of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land, Palestine continued to play a significant role in traditional Jewish culture. Small Jewish communities persevered in Jerusalem, Safed, and a few other areas, aided by contributions from Jews in the Diaspora. Some Diaspora Jews visited Palestine, others actually managed to settle there on a more permanent basis, and others arranged to be buried there. Overall, the numbers who actually immigrated were small. During the nineteenth century, with the emergence of the Zionist movement, as well as a growing deterioration in the condition of Jews in Europe, Jewish immigration to Palestine increased. From that time until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, historians and demographers have categorized various waves of immigration, or aliyot.

The first aliyah, or wave, lasted from 1881 to 1903. It was comprised of 30,000 to 40,000 Jews, most of whom were from Eastern Europe. They were part of a much larger emigration of Jews out of Eastern Europe at the time, sparked by economic, political, and physical persecution, especially pogroms. The vast majority who fled went to the United States, but many of those who had been in the early Zionist movements went to Palestine and, with support from Baron Edmund de Rothschild, established agricultural communities, including Petah Tikvah,
Zikhron Yaʿacov, Rehovot, Hadera, and Rishon le-Zion. During this period some 2,500 Jews from Yemen also emigrated to Palestine.

Another series of pogroms in Russia in 1903 and 1904 led to the next wave, the second aliyah, which numbered between 35,000 and 40,000 (mostly socialist-Zionists) and lasted until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Among them were the pioneers of the kibbutz movement and the labor Zionist establishment in the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine.

The Balfour Declaration as well as the Russian Revolution and its aftermath sparked the third aliyah. Between 1919 and 1924 another 35,000 Jews, mostly from Russia and Poland, immigrated and contributed to the early pioneering efforts in building up the Yishuv, including the establishment of the first cooperative settlements, moshavim.

The fourth aliyah, which lasted from 1924 to approximately 1930, differed from the previous waves in that it was sparked almost exclusively by economic conditions. As a result of a series of harsh taxation policies in Poland, some 80,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine, and the vast majority settled in the developing urban center, Tel Aviv. It may be assumed that a significant number of them would have preferred immigrating to the United States but were prevented from doing so by the restrictive immigration acts of 1921 and 1924, which brought immigration into the United States to a halt. That assumption is bolstered by the relatively high emigration rate among those of the fourth aliyah who settled only briefly in Palestine.

Approximately 225,000 Jews, primarily from Eastern Europe and also including a significant minority from Germany, arrived during the 1930s and were known as the fifth aliyah. Many of the immigrants

table 1: aliyah, 18402000
YearsNumbersCountries of EmigrationMotivation
source: courtesy of chaim i. waxman
Table by GGS Information Services, The Gale Group.
1840188120,00030,000primarily central and eastern europereligio-national
1882190335,000primarily eastern europe"first aliyah"religio-national and "push" factors
1904191440,000primarily central and eastern europe"second aliyah"religio-national and "push" factors
1919192335,000primarily eastern europe - "third aliyah"religio-national and "push" factors
1924193080,000primarily poland"fourth aliyah""push" factorsholocaust
19311939225,000primarily central and eastern europe"fifth aliyah""push" factorsholocaust
19401948143,000primarily central and eastern europe"push" factorsholocaust
19481951667,613about half north african and asianmixed "push" and "pull" factors
19521967582,653about 65% north african and asianmixed "push" and "pull" factors
19681988532,744more than 75% european and american, 43% of whom were from ussrreligio-national and economic factors
198920001,039,821overwhelmingly fsu; about 56,000 ethiopiansfsuprimarily economic;
   ethiopiansreligious and "push" factors

from Germany had high educational and occupational status, and they played an important role in the economic development of the Yishuv.

World War II gave a critical impetus to aliyah. The numbers legally entitled to immigrate under the 1939 MacDonald White Paper quota were much too low for the hundreds of thousands who were fleeing the Holocaust in Europe. An illegal immigration movement known as Aliyah Bet was established by a branch of Yishuv's defense force, the Haganah, enabling approximately 70,000 Jews to reach Palestine.

With the establishment of Israel as a sovereign state, aliyah was accorded formal priority with the enactment of the Law of Return, which grants immediate citizenship to Jews who immigrate. Although the law initially had both ideological and self-interest componentsit was widely perceived that the country was in need of population growth for its defense and survivalthe resulting massive immigration, especially from North African countries, was viewed by some as threatening to Israel's economic stability and to the Ashkenazic or Westernized character of the state, and they called for restrictions on immigration. Nevertheless, the government continued to encourage mass immigration, even though it was ill-equipped to manage it. The mass immigration during the years of early state-hood dramatically altered the ethnic composition of Israel, and continuing interplay between ethnicity and socioeconomic status has been an increasing source of tension and strain on the entire society.

Following the 1967 War there was a significant increase in aliyah from Western countries because of heightened nationalistic attachments as well as the pull of Israel's growing economy. By the end of the 1970s, those numbers receded to pre-1967 levels.

During the 1970s aliyah was boosted by emigrés from the Soviet Union, most of whom came for both ideological and persecution reasons. By contrast, the vast majority of the massive influx of close to one million immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) in the 1990s came for economic reasons. The Soviet immigrants in general, and especially those of the 1990s, retain strong identification with their former backgrounds and have forced Israeli society and politics to become much more multicultural. In addition, the relatively high rate of religious intermarriage among the FSU immigrants has created or heightened Jewish interreligious tensions in the country.

Finally, the immigration of some 60,000 "Beta Israel" or Falasha Jews from Ethiopia has created a whole set of new social, political, and religious issues that will probably increase before they recede, if indeed they ever do. This is a group that was cut off from contact with other Jewish communities for millennia. Their contemporary process of connection began with Christian missionary activities that brought them and world Jewry to mutual awareness. Since then, there had been only sporadic efforts to assist them. The mass immigration to Israel was sparked by deteriorating political and economic conditions after the Marxist overthrow of Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie and the rescue efforts of the Israeli government. The radical and immediate changes experienced by the Ethiopian immigration are unique and make it a fascinating case study for students of migration and absorption.

see also ethiopian jews; law of return; zionism.


Corinaldi, Michael. Jewish Identity: The Case of Ethiopian Jewry. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1998.

Eisenstadt, S. N. The Absorption of Immigrants: A Comparative Study Based Mainly on the Jewish Community in Palestine and the State of Israel. New York: Free Press, 1955.

Eisenstadt, S. N. Israeli Society. New York: Basic Books; London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967.

Leshem, Elazar, and Shuval, Judith T., eds. Immigration to Israel: Sociological Perspectives. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1998.

Medoff, Rafael, and Waxman, Chaim I. Historical Dictionary of Zionism. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000.

Rebhun, Uzi, and Waxman, Chaim I., eds. Jews in Israel: Contemporary Social and Cultural Patterns. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England/Brandeis University Press, 2004.

Waxman, Chaim I. American Aliya: Portrait of an Innovative Migration Movement. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1989.

Chaim I. Waxman


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ALIYAH (Heb. עֲלִיָּה; "ascent"), (1) the coming of Jews to the Land of Israel as olim (fem.: olot; sing.: oleh, olah) for permanent residence; (2) Jews coming from a particular country or region, or during a particular period, for this purpose, e.g., the Polish aliyah, the First Aliyah. Aliyah means more than immigration: it is a major ideal of *Zionism and the primary means for its realization. It implies personal participation in the rebuilding of the Jewish homeland and the elevation of the individual to a higher plane of self-fulfillment as a member of the renascent nation.

In earlier years the majority of olim were inspired by idealistic motives and even during the period of mass aliyah, when the main driving force was persecution and distress, many were motivated by messianic yearnings and there was always an infusion of idealists. Aliyah has been an almost uninterrupted process ever since the crushing of Jewish resistance by the Romans, but the term has been used particularly in connection with the modern Jewish return to the Land of Israel. Five major waves have been distinguished during the period of Zionist resettlement, each of which played its part in molding the yishuv, the Jewish community which constituted the Jewish state in embryo.

The First Aliyah, 1882–1903, consisted of individuals and small groups, mainly under the inspiration of *Ḥibbat Zion and the *Bilu movement, who established the early moshavot (see *moshavah). Some 25,000 – mostly from Eastern Europe – arrived during this period. There were two main influxes: in 1882–84 and 1890–91.

The Second Aliyah, 1904–14, which laid the foundation for the labor movement, consisted mainly of pioneers from Eastern Europe, who generally worked as hired laborers in the moshavot or the cities. They established the first Jewish labor parties and self-help institutions, the *Ha-Shomer watchmen's association, and the first kevuẓot (see *kibbutz), and laid the foundations for a new Hebrew press and literature. The influx, which totaled about 40,000, was interrupted by the outbreak of World War i.

The Third Aliyah, 1919–23, which started immediately after World War i, contained many young pioneers (ḥalutzim) belonging to the *He-Ḥalutz and *Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir movements. Together with the veterans of the Second Aliyah, they established the *Histadrut and *Gedud ha-Avodah, worked on road-building, set up more kevuẓot and kibbutzim, and founded the first *moshavim. Over 35,000 arrived during this period.

The Fourth Aliyah, 1924–28, which totaled some 67,000, contained many middle-class olim, over half of them from Poland. Some four-fifths settled in the main cities, considerably increasing the urban population, building new quarters, and setting up workshops and small factories. Development was halted by an unemployment crisis in 1926–28.

The Fifth Aliyah, 1929–39, accounted for an influx of over 250,000 Jews and transformed the character of the yishuv. A prominent part was played by refugees from Nazi Germany, over a quarter of the total, who transferred large amounts of capital and contributed valuable skills and business experience.

Aliyah continued during and after World War ii, totaling about 100,000 in 1940–48 (sometimes referred to as the Sixth and Seventh Aliyot). Under British rule (1918–48) aliyah was regulated by the Government of Palestine. The official criterion for the numbers admitted was, in normal periods, the country's "economic absorptive capacity," on which the British authorities and Jewish leaders did not agree, but in periods of crisis aliyah was often halted or severely restricted on political grounds. Between 1934 and 1948, some 115,000 olim were brought into the country in defiance of British restrictions, while another 51,500 were interned by the authorities in Cyprus and admitted only after the achievement of independence. This influx was described by the British as "illegal" *immigration and by the Jews as Aliyah Bet or ha'palah.

Independent Israel immediately removed all restrictions on aliyah and enacted the *Law of Return (1950), which guaranteed every Jew the right to immigrate to Israel as an oleh, unless he or she was a danger to public health or security, and to become a citizen immediately on arrival. The mass aliyah that followed the establishment of the State assumed the character of kibbuẓ galuyyot ("the *ingathering of the exiles"), almost entire Jewish communities, such as those of Bulgaria, Yemen, and lraq, being transferred to Israel. The resources of the State, as well as massive contributions from world Jewry through the Jewish *Agency, were mobilized for the transportation, reception, and integration of the olim. Mass aliyah – mainly from Eastern and Central Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East – resulted in the immigration of over a million and a quarter Jews in Israel's first two decades, the influx rising to its greatest heights in 1948–51 (684,000), 1955–57 (161,000), and 1961–64 (220,000). After the Six-Day War of 1967 there was a considerable increase in "voluntary" aliyah from Western Europe and the Americas. In the 1970s, as a result of pressure from Israel and other Western countries, the U.S.S.R. opened its gates, enabling more than 150,000 Jews to make aliyah. The majority arrived until 1973, and later on many of them left Israel and moved to other Western countries. The next massive aliyah from the U.S.S.R. began in 1989 when it reestablished relations with Israel. In 1990–91, 350,000 Russian immigrants arrived in Israel, and by 2003, over a million had emigrated from the former Soviet Union, making them the country's largest immigrant group. The majority were motivated by economic and social factors rather than Zionist ideology. Many were professionals – physicians, engineers, musicians, etc. – and by the end of the 1990s over 30% were non-Jews (as opposed to 10% in the 1990–95 period), benefiting from Israel's liberal Law of Return, which accords the right to immigrate to non-Jewish descendants of Jews. Though their absorption in the country was often difficult, they became a highly visible and influential population group in the course of the years.

During the same period Israel also faced aliyah from Ethiopia. The first olim arrived at the end of the 1970s, after R. Ovadiah *Yosef acknowledged their Jewishness. About 5,000 arrived independently at refugee camps in Sudan and were brought from there to Israel. As many of them lost their lives on the way, the Israeli government initiated Operation Moses at the end of 1984, in which 8,000 were airlifted to Israel in a 45-day period. In 1985, Sudan closed its borders and the Ethiopian aliyah ceased. In May 1991, it was renewed, with another 14,000 arriving in a dramatic 36-hour airlift (Operation Solomon). Since then, more have arrived in small groups, bringing the total of Ethiopian Jewry to 80,000 in 2002. Their integration into the country's life, socially and economically, has been extremely problematic, though the younger generation is being steadily "Israelified."

In the early years of the 21st century, aliyah consisted of small groups of olim, mainly from Argentina and France.

See also State of *Israel: Aliyah, Absorption and Settlement, where a bibliography is given.

For Aliyah le-Torah, see *Torah Reading.

[Misha Louvish /

Fred Skolnik (2nd ed.)]


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ʿAliyah (Heb., ‘ascent’).
1. Emigrating from the diaspora to the land of Israel to become a permanent resident.

2. The calling up of a member of the congregation in a synagogue to recite a blessing or to read from the Torah scroll (in full, ʿaliyah la-Torah).

3. Making pilgrimage to Jerusalem.