Rabbinate, MOI making it harder to prove one’s Jewishness

Rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Jerusalem Post recently reported several instances where legitimate documents of Jewish-born individuals were called into question by either the rabbinate or Interior Ministry which determines individuals’ eligibility to become Israeli citizens.

The article, “Rabbis making it harder for Israeli immigrants to prove they’re Jewish” by Marcy Oster, warned that over the next few years “hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union or of Ethiopian descent may need to undergo a process to validate their Judaism.”

One case cited was about a man who, having received citizenship along with his parents, wanted to have a Jewish wedding. Upon registering to have a rabbi officiate, his documents were called into question and he was required to take further steps to prove his Jewishness. It apparently wasn’t sufficient that he was seeking to marry “in accordance to the laws of Moses and Israel.” He now had to prove his grandparents also were married according to Jewish law and was asked to furnish his mother’s birth certificate (a document he and his mother would have already supplied during the citizenship process).

The article notes that this case was far from unique. Many Russian Jews are being required to prove their Jewish roots under more strict measure, some even required to undergo DNA testing. If the rabbinate deems documents inauthentic or suspicious, they place that person along with their extended family members, could find themselves on a blacklist. 

All of this comes at a time when anti-Semitism is gaining more traction and Jews throughout America and Europe are feeling a new sense of vulnerability. With the rise of synagogue attacks and the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement gaining popularity even among governments who once viewed Israel as an ally, Jews are considering their options for a fast exit in the event that they feel threatened. 

And herein lies a potentially serious problem. Today’s Jewish community is comprised of a diverse array of individuals from observant, to secular, to atheistic and even those antagonistic toward organized religion. Yet, the common denominator is their ethnicity – they were born to Jewish parents. Many of those individuals, however, would be unable to provide the obligatory letter from a local rabbi who can attest to their birthright. Nor would they necessarily have married another Jew in a Jewish ceremony or be able to prove that their parents did. Of course, this doesn’t make them less Jewish. It simply makes them non-observant.

It is said that in the early days of the State of Israel, a photograph showing a mother wearing a Star of David or even one’s own word stating that they were Jewish was enough to gain entrance into the Jewish state. Today, however, one must go through many hoops and meet a vast array of demands in order to be considered part of the tribe.

What would happen if Jews tried to immigrate to Israel en masse after a deadly attack in their country? Would the Jewish homeland close its doors to a large percentage of people because they are unable to meet the bureaucratic and oppressive criteria while they escape the threat of real danger and persecution? Would they be turned away and told that they are not authentic enough to join their own people?

This would be the ultimate slap in the face. Many Messianic Jews have already suffered this injustice and have been told to leave because they are not considered Jewish. They are deemed ineligible for citizenship despite the fact that they were born Jewish, live a Jewish lifestyle, celebrate the holidays, observe Shabbat and raise their children according to the laws of Moses, both through circumcision and bar/bat mitzvahs. 

Many Messianics, knowing the status quo, do not try to immigrate to Israel, fearing that thanks to social media and other investigative methods, the Ministry of Interior will discover their belief that Yeshua is the promised Messiah. As they get older, their hopes of living in Israel are dwindling.

We believe that anyone born a Jew must be permitted to immigrate under the Law of Return, which clearly states that all individuals born of a Jewish parent or even one Jewish grandparent are eligible to live in Israel as citizens. The bar should also not prohibit unobservant Jews to be welcomed into their homeland. 

The way this system is headed, the handful of zealots who determine citizenship are no better than those officials in countries that refused entry to Jews during one of the most fateful times in history when being born a Jew meant being ethnically doomed.

Israel must set a better standard than that. If not, history will have taught us nothing.