Supreme Rabbinical Court rules out DNA tests for Jewish status in two cases

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman has labeled their use, principally against citizens from the former Soviet Union, as discriminatory.

By
July 17, 2019 19:10
3 minute read.
Iris, left, and ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber

Iris, left, and ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber. (photo credit: ITIM)

The Supreme Rabbinical Court has overruled two lower courts in recent months to stop them from using DNA tests for Jewish status clarification.

This practice has increased in frequency of late and is controversial since such tests cannot definitively prove Jewish status, only act as an aide, although some rabbinical courts have refused to register for marriage individuals refusing to them.

The use of the tests has been contested by the ITIM religious services group, which appealed both cases to the Supreme Rabbinical Court, and have also invoked the ire of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman who has labeled their use, principally against citizens from the former Soviet Union, as discriminatory.

In one of the recent cases, Oleg, an Israeli citizen who immigrated from the former Soviet Union, got engaged and applied for a marriage license.

His local rabbinate required that he undergo a Jewish status clarification process which involves a rabbinical court appointing an investigator to check Soviet era documentation, interview grandparents and other methods.

Based on documents he presented that indicated that his great-grandparents were married for eight years before his grandmother was born, the investigator speculated that his grandmother may have been adopted, raising the possibility that Oleg was not Jewish.

The court ruled that it could only certify Oleg was Jewish if his grandmother and great-grandmother undertook DNA tests, despite the fact that his great-grandmother was deceased.

The court determined that without the DNA tests, Oleg would be put on a rabbinate blacklist preventing him from getting married.

As a result of the ruling, at least seven other members of Oleg’s family had their Jewish status formally blacklisted, since it was not just his Jewish status but that of his grandmother which was put in question.

In a second case, Iris, also originally from the Soviet Union, married in 1996 through the Chief Rabbinate, implicitly approving her Jewish status at the time by granting her a marriage license.

She and her husband subsequently divorced however and her husband claimed during rabbinical court proceedings that she was not Jewish.

The court then cast aspersions on Iris Jewish status and questioned whether she too had been adopted, and required her to take a DNA test to prove her biological connection to her mother in order to preserve her Jewish status.

Because of the ruling, the Jewish status of Iris’ two children was also threatened.

ITIM appealed both cases to the Supreme Rabbinical Court which overturned the lower court ruling in Oleg’s case last week and the decision against Iris earlier this year.

“ITIM’s successful appeals on their behalf are important steps in the struggle against the religious establishment’s overreaching authority and discrimination against citizens from the former Soviet Union,’ said ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber.

“We will continue to challenge cases like these until the state puts an end to the use of dubious DNA tests, which represent a scientifically flawed and Jewishly misguided approach to proving Jewish identity.”

ITIM is dealing with at least 15 such cases all of which involve citizens from the former Soviet Union, with the rulings against Oleg and Iris being the first to be overturned by the higher court. 

Liberman wrote on Facebook that he was pleased with the Supreme Rabbinical Court rulings against the lower courts, saying that a High Court petition against the practice has helped change the approach of the Chief Rabbinate.

He said however that since the Supreme Rabbinical Court has not rejected in principle the use of DNA tests to prove Jewish status he would insist in a future coalition agreement for a law to prevent their use.


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