Sunday, November 8, 2009

Proving you are a Jew

One day last fall, a young Israeli woman named Sharon went with her fiancé to the Tel Aviv Rabbinate to register to marry. They are not religious, but there is no civil marriage in Israel. The rabbinate, a government bureaucracy, has a monopoly on tying the knot between Jews. The last thing Sharon expected to be told that morning was that she would have to prove — before a rabbinic court, no less — that she was Jewish. It made as much sense as someone doubting she was Sharon, telling her that the name written in her blue government-issue ID card was irrelevant, asking her to prove that she was she.

Sharon is a small woman in her late 30s with shoulder-length brown hair. For privacy’s sake, she prefers to be identified by only her first name. She grew up on a kibbutz when kids were still raised in communal children’s houses. She has two brothers who served in Israeli combat units. She loved the green and quiet of the kibbutz but was bored, and after her own military service she moved to the big city, which is the standard kibbutz story. Now she is a Tel Aviv professional with a master’s degree, a job with a major H.M.O. and a partner — when this story starts, a fiancé — who is “in computers.”

This stereotypical biography did not help her any more at the rabbinate than the line on her birth certificate listing her nationality as Jewish. Proving you are Jewish to Israel’s state rabbinate can be difficult, it turns out, especially if you came to Israel from the United States — or, as in Sharon’s case, if your mother did.[...]


  1. Seth Farber is saving lives of Jews who can not prove their Jewishness. How many of us can prove our Jewishness, if needed?

  2. Everyone can prove their Jewishness if needed. It's not at all difficult. What's difficult are the legions gentiles who go around as Jews because well meaning but misinformed Jews are lenient if they can't prove their Jewishness due to self doubt about proving their own.

  3. Why should the Rabbinate rely on the testimony of people who claim to be Jewish but don't keep Mitzvos? They're 100% right to demand some sort of Halachically proper testimony.

  4. In spite of all the fears and rhetoric, it seems that she actually had no problems afterall. The system works.

  5. Everyone can prove their Jewishness if needed. It's not at all difficult
    Tell that to my BT oleh friend who had to get married in the US because the testimony of his 4 living Jewish grandparents was not sufficient, and none of them (besides the oleh himself) had any connections to the Orthodox community.

    I suggested he kill his maternal grandmother and arrange for the corpse to be buried in a Jewish cemetery in the US, but he chose to have her attend the ceremony instead. I guess such a lack of devotion to yichus is good cause to question his ancestry - it seems at least a serious as not liking cholent.

  6. Eternal Jewish Fraud WatchNovember 10, 2009 at 4:48 PM

    Mr. Lennhoff,

    While I sympathize with people improperly jerked around by the Rabbanut, I am not going to let you get in that dig about cholent. The Shulchan Aruch says that if a Jew refuses to eat hot food on Shabbos, you can suspect them of heresy. I have found the few people I know to meet the criteria to be heretics.

  7. The issue is not refusing to eat hot food on Shabbat. The issue is that some people seem to think if you don't like cholent maybe you're not Jewish.


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