Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman holds a weapon during a visit to Sderot.
(photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI / DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman called on Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef to resign after Israeli media exposed the practice conducted by the Rabbinical Court to use DNA examinations to decide if a person is of Jewish origin.
The story was first revealed two weeks ago when Ynet was able to locate 20 Israeli couples in which one of the partners was asked to undergo such an examination as a condition for the couple to be wed in a Jewish ceremony.
The Rabbinical Court holds a monopoly on Jewish weddings in the State of Israel, which are the main path for legal marriages in the country as Israel does not recognize civil marriages.
Israelis who wish to do so may marry their partners outside the country and have the wedding recognized by the Israeli legal system. While technically married, children of such a union are not considered legitimate under traditional Jewish law and may encounter hardships later on.
Minister of the Interior Arye Deri denied the accusation at first only for Rabbi David Lau to admit the practice is in fact in usage later on.
Lau said the DNA examination is used only in “some cases” and is not mandatory, yet Ynet was able to obtain evidence that at least 20 families were asked to do so last year and the process is “humiliating.”
The exam seeks to establish the genetic linage between the applicant and his or her mother as Jewish identity is usually determined by the mother.
Lau pointed out that the DNA evidence itself does not determine Jewishness but is used in the legal process of deciding if the applicant has a claim to orthodox Jewish identity.
Jews from the former Soviet Union were exposed to the practice due to the loss of Jewish documents – including wedding certificates – many Jewish families experienced during the Second World War and the great changes in Soviet society following the victory over Nazi Germany.
The issue of Jewish genetics is highly sensitive with some Rabbis leaning towards a view that “our nation is a nation only in its Torah,” meaning that anyone who wishes to become Jewish may do so and claim he or she are Jews – and others who view a powerful, mystic, relationship between origin and spirituality.
David B. Goldstein explored the issue in his 2009 publication Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History.
A Professor of molecular genetics at Duke University, Goldstein views genetics as one means to uncover questions of Jewish history while being very careful to suggest genetics do not equal identity.
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