Sunday, March 02, 2008

How do you prove you're a Jew?

The Sunday Times Magazine has an article by Gershom Gorenberg, an Orthodox Jew, about some new and disturbing Israeli madness. In short, if you wish to marry in Israel and your parents married in the diaspora you must prove to the satisfaction of a religious court that your mother was a Jewess. As the article reports, the court's standard of proof is almost ridiculous. Not only do they reject the testimony of Reform and Conservative rabbis, they've increasingly begun rejecting evidence from Orthodox Rabbis as well.

Even the practice of requiring outside testimony, Gorenberg writes, is something new:
The leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Israel in the years before and after the state was established, Avraham Yeshayahu Karlitz (known as the Hazon Ish, the name of his magnum opus on religious law), held the classical position. If someone arrived from another country claiming to be Jewish, he should be allowed to marry another Jew, “even if nothing is known of his family,” Karlitz wrote.
But now engaged couples are required to produce birth certificates, and photos of tombstones, and letters from members of the small, unpublished list of Orthodox Rabbis the courts will recognize. As Gorenberg put it: "the status of Jews by birth is in question. Equally important, the dividing line is no longer between Orthodox and non-Orthodox. The rabbinate’s handling of the issue has placed it on one side of an ideological fissure within Orthodox Judaism itself, between those concerned with making sure no stranger enters the gates and those who fear leaving sisters and brothers outside."

The solution, of course, is to allow Israelis to bring civil marriage to Israel. Make a clear distinction between halachic marriage and legal marriage and these problems and the accompanying animosity will disappear.

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