Jew or not a Jew?

March 17, 2014 by Henry Benjamin
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Rabbi David Stav has visited Sydney from Israel where he raised awareness of the plight of Israelis who are recent immigrants and have no documentation to prove their Jewishness.


Rabbi  Yehoram Ulman, Rabbi Dovid Slavin, Rabbi David Stav, Harry Trguboff, Shalom Norman and Rabbi Levi Wolff

Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, Rabbi Dovid Slavin, Rabbi David Stav, Harry Trguboff, Shalom Norman and Rabbi Levi Wolff            Photo: Henry Benjamin


Dr Ron Weiser told a dinner at Sydney’s Royal Motor Yacht Club that over one third of Israeli couples get married outside of the country as they do not wish to be married by a Haredi rabbi or cannot prove their Jewish roots…a figure of over 10,000  weddings.

Rabbis Slav is the founder of the Tzohar Rabbinic Association which has taken uo the cause of those couples facing wedding difficulties. Quoting from the Book of Esther, Rabbi Stav said that all Jews should be together but “they will not all be the same”.

The dinner was shown a tim depicting the plight of immigrants who had been drafted into the IDF and served their full term only to learn on discharge that it was acceptable for them to serve Israel militarily but they would not be recognised as Jews without providing satisfactory evidence to the Rabbinate.

Harry Triguboff     Photo: Henry Benjamin

Harry Triguboff Photo: Henry Benjamin

He spoke about the diversity that exists in the world wide Jewish community mentioning that “it enlightens us” adding but “we want them to be united  believing that they have the same ideal”.

According to Rabbi Stab, Shorashim and Tzohar is about having the one vision.

Rabbi Stav told the story of an immigrant to Israel from Los Angeles who had lost his papers identifying him as being Jewish thereby impairing his ability to have his wedding in Israel. He said that they could go to Cyprus but “if they don’t get married in Israel, the next generation won’t be Jews”. The Tzohar rabbis were able to get sufficient evidence to facilitate the marriage taking place in Israel.

He said that in Israel “the Tzohar rabbis could marry about 4,000 couples – but that a figure could be doubled” adding that if they could prove the Jewishness of one immigrant it would result in around another five being members of the same family.

He estimated that the number of Israelis, many of whom served in the IDF, who the regular orthodox rabbis will not accept as being Jewish is around 750,000.

Ron Weiser and Shalom Norman     Photo: Henry Benjamin

Ron Weiser and Shalom Norman Photo: Henry Benjamin

We will try to do all we can who is halachically Jewish that he will be able to continue his Jewishness. He will be connected not only to his Jewish past but also to his Jewish future. We are entitled to ask all Jews committed to their past and future to be a part of out work .and we cannot allow one Jew to be left behind”.

Rabbi Stav praised Sydney identity Harry Triguboff for his commitment to the Tzohar and Shorashim projects.

Shalom Norman who represents the Harry O Triguboff in Israel explained the day to day workings of SHorashim saying “that it is very confusing” when you know that Israelis with Ukranian features which may be from a non Jewish father but who is halachically Jewish. He also spoke of the drive to find living witnesses from a dying generation who could help prove that a person is Jewish. He went into great detail as to how the Shorashim functioned in Eastern Europe in their bid to find the necessary evidence for today’s immigrants.

Harry Triguboff said that “we need a man of his stature” referring to Rabbi Stav whom he said showed great courage in taking on the Rabbinate in Israel saying that to get the laws changed  it would mean taking the issue to parliament. Triguboff went on to say that the issue had “got out of control” in Israel saying that no-one knows who their children will choose as life partner which may be affected by the halachic position of the new spouse.

The work of SHorashim continues in Eastern Europe as its detectives pour through records and ask endless question to lift the burden of finding the proof for so many Israelis whose driving ambition is to continue and build their lives in the Jewish State…as Jews.

Last words got to Harry Triguboff who said: “It we can’t gain a Jew we lose him or her….and their children are lost forever.”








4 Responses to “Jew or not a Jew?”
  1. I’m so glad that God knows who His people are, humans are so confused.

  2. What a fascinating question being discussed in 2014, Halachically I am a Jew, however, viewed by some I ‘am a lost’. At 76 my personal beliefs have changed dramatically from when as a very young child when myself and my parents were truly blessed by living in the UK plus in the 1940s living through the 2nd World War. I know this may be considered as ‘rambling’ but it is a personal perspective of where I am today. Being Jewish then was a matter of keeping a low profile due to the virulent anti Semitism. I know my mother and father were becoming extremely concerned more to the point, frightened. My father was a member of an ultra religious small syngagogue (he was a Levi) where we lived in North West London. He loved his religion and followed the teachings literally and by example, taught me his beliefs, which now would be considered ultra orthodox. Friday nights was sacred, no radio, no writing, no television and we went to bed early and by now in 1948 the war in Europe was over, and my mother and I went to a local cinema, and saw the evacuation of the concentration camps on Movietone News. I was now 10 years old and seeing all this horror, was a terrible shock. Then with the creation of the State of Israel,I had just returned to school life which had become a nightmare. Anti Semitism for me became very personal and in spite of the news some non Jews, especially the children were extremely cruel and teased me unmercifully. To counter this my mother enrolled me in the Macabbi.
    Now I was beginning to seriously think about being a Jew, I know I was young, but back then these questions were important to me. I was then living a very narrow life, I only had Jewish friends, my parents friends were all Jewish and belonged to the same synagogue. Then at 16 I left school and went into the ‘outside world’, I was reading ferociously and spent most of my time at the local Library, and the one book which stands out was Anne Frank. It touched my heart and at the end when she was in Auchswitz I think it was, she wrote which was incredible for a girl of her age, along the lines, ‘that in spite of everything I still believe in the decency of human nature’. What amazing insight for someone living in such a horror, to this day, I still wonder where she got this strength.

    So at 18 my endless search for understanding of what it means to be a Jew began and probably now some will strongly disapprove. Religiously I follow the Ten Commandments, at least I try to, ofttimes with great difficulty. The Torah well the little I have read and I wonder at how the Rabbis of old had such wisdom, they were humble, very modern in some aspects, and related to their communities in a way, that is sadly lacking in current times. A Rabbi once told me that because there is no Sanhedrin that halachic laws cannot be changed. Each country throughout the world, have their own practices, the USA is very different to the UK,very integrated; in Europe I only heard recently a large number of Jews are returning to Austria, many are leaving France and going to Israel and also those living in South Africa. Russian Jewry also has changed, and here to there is much integration. In Eretz Israel you have the strict right wing who religiously (and politically) control the country. I have known for a long time now of couples marrying in registry offices in Cyprus, returning to Israel where their marriages are not recognised. The number of groups in the UK is very broad, from Chasidic, United, Masorti, Reform and Liberal. The Reform is a growing and now a large community. The present Chief Rabbi in the UK, however, who is United, is officially recognised as the representative of Anglo Jewry. Out of approximately 350,000 registered as living in the UK, the young people are turning to the United but many are married to non Jewish partners and then the problems begin, which faith do they educate the children? Most if the family is strong enough the children are loved and welcomed. There is a very small group of Rabbis in the UK who will conduct marriages in centres authorised by the UK authorities as legal for marriages to take place. Interestingly, the Lubavitch in the UK is a growing community, so there are three groups very religious and traditional, then the Reform/Liberal,also religious but with a very tolerant attitudes to non Jewish partners, and then there is the rest of ‘us’, who attend synagogue on the Yom Tovim, some keep Kosher others like myself don’t.

    Now living in a very small town in Far North Queensland, both my husband and myself don’t find it difficult to mix socially in a very non Jewish environment. It was a ‘given’ in Finchley, NW London and our friends were Sikh, Greek, Roman Catholic, ultra orthodox.

    My younger daughter has been (living in Australia) and married to a Torres Strait Island for a number of years,and has six children. My elder daughter in the UK is married to a Jew, and has two sons, and lives an Orthodox way of life. This rests easily with me, I am very proud of our 8 grandchildren, no question. It does not bother me that 6 of them do not follow the Jewish religion, but as young people, growing up in Australia they are citizens of a country equally diverse. Religion for me has much more meaning then scrupulously following the dietary laws, going to synagogues and even celebrating the Festivals.

    It is more to do with living a way of life that I and my (Jewish) husband are content with and some may consider it sad, that we are not closer to a Jewish community and probably do not wish to be. The number of Israelis, living about 30 minutes drive from us, are I am told are returning to Israel. Amusingly, one thing, all the money we paid in for burial in the UK is now negated. So entering a totally new phase of our lives, we came to live in Australia permanently October last year, and we find the variety and diversity even in a small town, very enjoyable. Who knows what the future will bring, but there are 6 halachically Jewish, Torres Strait boys and girls who are the future of Australia, together with many other youngsters from vastly different backgrounds.

    Reminds me of a speech by Martin Luther King, the last one he gave before he was murdered. Now can it be such a bad thing, that we evolve and each one of us believe in the same ideas and ethics, I do not think so!
    Personally, so far, G-d willing we have been very fortunate in meeting people from all walks of life, who view life in the same way. I don’t even question that they are not Jewish. That does not mean to say, that I am very proud to be a Jew and all the knowledge that I have inherited from my grandparents who emigrated in the very early 1900s’ from the Ukraine and Romania is a true gift.

  3. Liat Nagar says:

    I commend Rabbi David Stav for his efforts, and his compassion. It’s both a ridiculous and unfair situation that exists whereby Jews living in Israel can serve in the IDF, be accepted for aliyah by the Government of Israel, and yet the Rabbinate exists as a separate entity outside of all this, demanding extra proof of Jewish identity before sanctioning marriage. If the State of Israel accepts a person as a Jew, then the Rabbinate should have to as well. There are myriad reasons why Jews might not have formal documents that prove their Jewishness – Jews have lived in all sorts of situations and circumstances that are unstable and lacking in continuity that can make this problematic.

  4. Lynne Newington says:

    I wonder how Spain in an effort to right a 520 year old injustice trying to prove who is and who isn’t connected to those who were expelled all those years ago…..
    Aleksandra Hadzelic has an interesting article on TheConversation; Spain moves to right a wrong…

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