Who’s a Jew? Rabbinical courts demand DNA test to prove Judaism - report

Over the past year, almost 20 couples with at least one spouse from the former Soviet Union were asked to carry out a DNA test to prove that they were Jewish.

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February 28, 2019 01:46
2 minute read.
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Couples from the Soviet Union were asked by rabbinical courts to take DNA tests in order to prove their Jewish heritage, an NGO who advocates for Jews within Israeli religious bureaucratic systems claimed.

"This is discrimination against immigrants from the former Soviet Union - and a smokescreen," Rabbi Dr. Seth Farber, the founder of the non-profit Itim, told the Hebrew website Ynet.

Farber has threatened to petition the High Court of Justice, according to the report.

Over the past year, almost 20 couples with at least one spouse from the former Soviet Union were asked to carry out a DNA test to prove that they are Jewish if they wanted to register their marriages in Israel, Ynet reported.

According to one account, a couple was legally married by the Rabbinate, but when they were looking to file for divorce, a DNA test was demanded.

Some 5,000 immigrants were asked to prove their Jewishness in recent years, Farner said. 

Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau are promoting legislation that would allow the rabbinical courts to challenge the Jewishness of a person - even if he was not even registered for marriage, and did not apply for religious services, the report added.

In 2017, there was a rabbinic ruling that permitted a specific genetic test to be used as proof of Jewish descent for certain Ashkenazi Jews, which was proposed by Rabbi Yosef Carmel, who is both co-head of the Eretz Hemdah Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies and a senior rabbinical judge on the private Eretz Hemdah rabbinical court in south Jerusalem.

According to the rabbi, experts in Jewish genealogy and history have determined that 40% of all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from just four Jewish women who left the Middle East more than 1,000 years ago and settled in Europe.

According to the scientific report commissioned by Eretz Hemdah for its ruling, there is a certainty of at least 90% and up to 99% that someone bearing specific genetic markers in their mitochondrial DNA is descended from one of these women. This study and many like it have been contentious topic within the scientific community.

Farber expressed his worries to The Jerusalem Post in 2017 that using scientific means to determine Jewishness could lead rabbinical judges to reject less precise but totally valid tools in Jewish law to establish someone’s Jewish status.

"In recent months, studies have been published clarifying that the examination is not unequivocal," Farber further explains in the report. "In addition, these rabbis are contemptuous of Halakha - for there are Halakhic tools for solving these problems."

"I do not understand why the rabbinical courts are suddenly ready to throw the halakha into the garbage and rely on science. Finally, it is clear that if we use the DNA test, we will create a split the Jewish people."

"This is an outrageous discrimination and racist," former minister of defense Avigdor Liberman said, adding that "no immigrant from another country was asked to do similar tests. Liberman is himself a Jewish immigrant from the former Soviet Union.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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