Since the story of “The Amazing Case of Louis Shapiro” was published in the Jerusalem Post this past week, I have been flooded with phone calls from people asking me if they are Jewish. I was able to help Louis prove his Jewishness to the satisfaction of the Haifa rabbinical court by providing ship manifests and naturalization papers from 1913 and 1924 respectively. These I procured from a volunteer genealogist who has worked with ITIM since 2008 in New York. You can read the article here.
Following the holiday, one prominent Orthodox rabbi who is now teaching at Yeshiva University published a blog entitled “Am I Jewish?” His summary of the article was “There must be a better way.”
Why should everyone be considered guilty until proven innocent? Why should the burden of “proof of Jewishness” be placed on young couples who seek to be married in Israel? The halacha – until recently – never addresses how one can prove he or she is Jewish. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch is very clear that we trust someone who comes forward and says they are Jewish, unless they have a rancorous personality.
Well, there is a better way. And it involves trust.
At present, the rabbinical courts and marriage registries in Israel have been characterized by suspicious attitudes toward immigrants, and particularly those from non-orthodox backgrounds. Individuals who come into the rabbinate with non-orthodox documentation (for example – a Conservative ketuba) are assumed to have no Jewish roots, unless they can prove it.
And it is worse if the couple comes from the Former Soviet Union. The rabbinate is only willing to trust (mostly Communist) registration papers such as birth certificates, and will almost never accept oral testimony. This week, a woman in her sixties was told that she was adopted because she had multiple copies of her birth certificate.
We need to learn to trust each other a bit more, and convince the rabbinate to do the same. Until we do that, the threshold of “proving Jewishness” will continue to rise, and more and more people will be eliminated from the Jewish community.
I believe that we can build bridges of trust, so that all Jews can once again live in brotherhood, even if they disagree about the practice of Judaism. But this is a long battle, and one that is still being fought case by case.