Knesset Committee Chair calls ‘Jewishness Investigation’ procedure in rabbinical courts ‘Invasive and humiliating’

November 17, 2021 by Gil Tanenbaum - TPS
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The Knesset Committee on Special National Infrastructure Projects and Jewish Religious Services has held a meeting to look into the issue of “Jews of doubtful status?”

MK Yulia Malinovsky (3L) from Yisrael Beiteinu party, during a faction meeting at the Knesset. Jerusalem, Oct 18, 2021. Photo by Shalev Shalom/TPS

The meeting was intended to examine the issue of how the rabbinical courts in Israel “investigate” the “Jewishness” of individuals for the purpose of undergoing religious ceremonies under the supervision of the Israeli rabbinate such as marriage.

Committee Chair MK Yulia Malinovsky is from the Yisrael Beitenu Party. This party was founded by the current Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman as a secular right-wing party that also promotes the rights of immigrants in Israel who come from the former Soviet Union. It is this group of people who are generally most likely to have problems with Israel’s rabbinate and rabbinic courts over the issue of their Jewish identities.

Many of the immigrants who came to Israel from the former Soviet Union over the past three decades are not technically Jewish under Jewish law. This is because Israeli law allows people with just one Jewish grandparent the right to live in the country and become an Israeli citizen. This applies even to people who are not technically Jewish.

Yesh Atid is a coalition party that was founded by the current co-premiere Yair Lapid. In its founding, the party declared itself to be dedicated to changing the religious status quo in Israel and the promotion of such matters as secular marriage.

Malinovsky condemned the current procedures in place calling them “invasive and humiliating.” She also cited the statistic that, according to data collected by the committee, in the next 30 years some 500,000 Israelis will have to undergo the procedure.

“I myself went through this process, and I have to say that the experience was not pleasant,” Malinovsky said. “You are immediately viewed as a suspect and defendant. I don’t know if I would have passed this procedure had I gone to the rabbinical courts today. The documents are difficult to obtain, and the demands of the Judaism investigators are becoming more and more difficult.”

She also asked why the procedure was only for [people who came to Israel] from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia”? Malinovsky said she was advancing legislation that would prevent the rabbinical courts from using genetic tests.

MK Simon Davidson (Yesh Atid), who was born to Holocaust survivors in Vilnius, U.S.S.R., said: “My grandmother’s entire family was ultra-Orthodox, and they were all murdered in the Holocaust. The years passed, and in 1997, when I wanted to get married and went to the Rabbinate, I was asked to present documents. I was stunned. They asked us for a document from the main library in Kaunas. I had no choice; we had to get it. To this day I hear whispering that my mother is not Jewish.”

MK Vladimir Beliak (Yesh Atid) said, “The public is being abused. Such a procedure does not exist anywhere else in the world. I also went through the procedure when I got married in 2008. Why do we deserve this? Because the aggressive rabbinic establishment decided that we are third-class citizens. I discussed the matter with the Minister of Religious Services and was told there will be solutions.”

Rafi Reches, the legal advisor to the rabbinical courts, testified in defence of the Rabbinate’s practices. He explained to the committee that Israel’s rabbinical courts must follow the strict rules of Jewish law, called Halacha, and cannot deviate from it. For this reason, it cannot simplify its procedures or make exceptions for people under special circumstances.

Reches stated that 97% of all those who were asked to undergo a “Jewishness examination” procedure were given a certification of Judaism. Genetic testing, he said, is meant to help people who cannot prove their Jewishness any other way.

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