Gavel from Reuters 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)
The High Court of Justice demanded on Thursday that Rishon Lezion Chief Rabbi
Yehuda David Wolpe explain why he sends couples seeking to register for marriage
to a private company for clarifications about their Jewish
ITIM, a religious rights lobbying group, filed a petition with
the court against Wolpe and the Am Levadad company earlier this week. They have
till March 10 to respond.
Jews seeking to marry in Israel must provide
proof of their Jewish ancestry to register for marriage. In general, this
requires the presentation by each prospective spouse of his or her parents’
But many people, especially immigrants; people
whose parents married abroad; and converts, encounter serious obstacles in this
process from local rabbinates, ITIM said.
If in doubt, the Chief
Rabbinate allows local rabbinates to refer a couple to a rabbinical court to
clarify the details of their Jewish ancestry through the presentation of various
documents, and this is the only authorized address for such
ITIM’s petition said that Wolpe has for years referred such
couples to Am Levadad and that he conditions their marriage registration on the
company’s approval. Am Levadad charges each couple NIS 250.
procedure entails not inconsiderable costs in time and money and, according to
the plaintiffs, is accompanied by serious injury to personal dignity, privacy,
confidentiality and the right to marry,” the petition claimed.
demanded that the court ask Wolpe to explain the practice and asked for an
interim injunction against the rabbi to prevent him referring anyone else to Am
Levadad until the matter has been ruled upon.
The court did not, however,
grant the injunction in Thursday’s decision.
In one case involving one of
the seven co-plaintiffs with ITIM to the petition, a person seeking to register
for marriage who had been formally confirmed by the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court as
Jewish was referred by Wolpe to Am Levadad.
“It is unconscionable for a
municipal rabbi not to accept the authority of a rabbinical court,” said ITIM
director and Orthodox rabbi Seth Farber. “It’s an outrage that municipal and
state taxes go to pay his salary, and the State of Israel needs to have normal
marriage registration bureaus which are not controlled by renegade
“Allowing Rabbi Wolpe to continue with this practice evinces a
complete lack of will to stop isolationists and fundamentalists from imposing
their own will on the system,” Farber added.
Wolpe told The Jerusalem
Post he had not received any notification of the High Court petition against him
and that he did not wish to comment on the matter.
Shraiber, one of the owners of Am Levadad, claimed in conversation with the Post
that local rabbinical courts and rabbinates had in the past not carried out
sufficient background investigations into people whose Jewish status was in
question, and continued to do so.
Am Levadad deals almost exclusively
with people originating from the former Soviet Union or the former Eastern
“Thousands of approval certificates of Jewish status were handed
out in the past without sufficient checks, and unfortunately some of them were
given to people who were not Jewish,” said Shraiber, himself from the former
He also argued that rabbinates and rabbinical courts
sometimes rule against the advice of their investigators, and that forcing the
decision of these bodies on the municipal rabbi was against the
Shraiber added that he and the two other Am Levadad employees were
experts in the field of clarifying questions of Jewish status, specializing in
the history and languages of Jewish communities in FSU.
He added that the
firm was a professional organization and that it provided an approachable and
Shraiber added that neither he nor Am Levadad had
received notification of the petition.