Israel’s chief rabbinate now asks twice as many people to prove their Jewish status, according to figures released as part of a Supreme Court battle.
Legal advocates for a woman who was herself challenged in this way before she was allowed to marry say that the chief rabbinate asks twice as many as it did five years ago, while the number rejected as a “non-Jew” has risen by 460 percent.
The figures were released following a Freedom of Information request and showcased by a group called ITIM: Resources and Advocacy for Jewish Life, which is representing a woman called Reut T.
They are arguing that the rabbinical courts have no legal authority to investigate or reject an Israeli citizen’s Jewish status, especially since the state has already recognised it. Reut, who was born in the former Soviet Union, was deemed “not Jewish” by the rabbis, as was her brother and mother.
“Suddenly and without their will or consent, a cloud of doubt is cast over their Jewishness,” said Reut’s lawyers, describing the impact on those the rabbinate choose to investigate.
“They are required to answer to the rabbinical court, without having done anything to deserve a trial over their identity. There is not enough space to describe the personal and emotional damage this situation creates.”
In a ruling last year, the rabbinical courts called for investigation if “a doubt has arisen considering the Jewishness of a relative” requiring the courts “to clarify the matter of their Jewishness for the purpose of marriage according to Jewish law”.
ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber described the increased incidence as a “very worrisome trend,” adding: “Israel is a nation of immigrants. If this continues, it puts in danger the most basic human rights of more than a million citizens.
“Beyond this, it is also against Jewish law, which states that one must take at their word a person who says they are Jewish. A small group is imposing its fundamentalist views on the Israeli immigrant population.”