Liberman demands ban on DNA tests by rabbinical courts

Yisrael Beytenu leader says he won’t enter a coalition without a guarantee that a law banning DNA testing by the rabbinical courts will be passed

May 14, 2019 02:16
2 minute read.
Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference, October 22, 2018

Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference, October 22, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman brought the highly-charged issue of DNA tests for Jewish status determination to the forefront on Monday, saying that he would not enter the government without a guarantee that a bill his party has submitted banning the practice will be passed.
In March, Chief Rabbi David Lau acknowledged that DNA tests are sometimes used in a small number of cases to help determine the Jewish status of individuals that the rabbinical court is not convinced are in fact Jewish.
Rabbinical courts have required such tests in some 20 cases in recent months, all of which involve citizens from the former Soviet Union or their descendants – making the issue a political one for Yisrael Beytenu, which derives much of its support from this community.
The tests are controversial since they cannot definitively prove Jewish status and can serve only as an aide in the status clarification process ordered by rabbinical courts for many citizens, especially from the former Soviet Union, who seek to marry through the chief rabbinate.
Despite such tests being unable to refute Jewish status, some rabbinical courts have refused to register for marriage individuals who have refused to undergo such tests.
“If there is any infringement on human freedom and dignity, it is these humiliating DNA tests – whether for the purposes of the coercion of Judaism, divorce or marriage,” Liberman said in the Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting on Monday.
“This is the biggest invasion of privacy there could be – and I’m not prepared for the rabbinical courts to use this for any purpose,” he continued, adding that his party would not budge “one millimeter” from the wording of a bill it submitted last week on the issue.
According to the office of MK Yulia Malinkovsky, who submitted the legislation, the bill would ban the rabbinical courts from using DNA tests for any purpose, except in exceptionally rare cases.
Even in such a case, approval for the test would be needed from the attorney-general in order for the rabbinical court to order it.
A spokesman for Malinkovsky said that a law passed in 2008 had given the rabbinical courts the authority to order DNA tests to establish paternity in issues of family law, but that the courts had unilaterally expanded its use of such tests for Jewish status concerns as well, without legal authorization.
Malinkovsky herself said that the use of DNA tests to prove Jewish status was “fundamentally different” from the intention of the law passed in 2008 to establish paternity.
One of the tests used by the rabbinical court is of mitochondrial DNA – the genetic material present in cellular bodies called mitochondria – which is inherited exclusively from a person’s mother.
Genetic markers on this DNA can be traced back many generations to determine a person’s maternal ancestors with a high degree of certainty. Since Jewish status is determined matrilineally, it can be used as proof that an individual is of Jewish ancestry.
Experts in Jewish genealogy and history have suggested that 40% of all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from just four Jewish women who left the Middle East over 1,000 years ago and settled in Europe, and there is therefore high certainty that someone with these markers is Jewish.
The test cannot be used to revoke Jewish status, however, since some 60% of Ashkenazi Jews are not descended from those four women.

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