Beth Din distances itself from ‘covert missionary’ Jewish status claim

The Orthodox Beth Din of Philadelphia issued a letter noting that a bill of divorce cannot be used to determine Jewish status, as alleged covert missionary Michael Elkohen has asserted.

Christianity, illustrative (photo credit: REUTERS)
Christianity, illustrative
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Orthodox Beth Din of Philadelphia has distanced itself from claims made on behalf of alleged covert Christian missionary Michael Elkohen that he is Jewish on the basis of a bill of divorce the rabbinical court issued for him.
As previously reported by The Jerusalem Post, Elkohen, born Elk, is thought to be a covert missionary based on his admission in 2014 that he was a missionary, his social-media activity and that of his wife since then, and recent comments made by his children in school.
Elkohen denied the claims, saying he had been a missionary but was born Jewish and that he abandoned Christianity when his activity as a missionary was discovered in 2014.
Elkohen referred questions about his Jewishness to his yeshiva’s dean, Rabbi Gidon Holland, who cited a bill of divorce issued by the Orthodox Beth Din of Philadelphia for Elkohen and his first wife, Crystal.
Some rabbinical court documents are used as proof of Jewish status. However, Holland told the Post he had never contacted the Orthodox Beth Din of Philadelphia to ask about the authenticity of the document or whether the court had looked into Elkohen’s Jewish status.
Last week, the Orthodox Beth Din of Philadelphia issued a letter clarifying its position on Elkohen.
“It is impossible to rely on the Jewishness of the givers and receivers of bills of divorce that they are Jews for all purposes and that there is no doubt about them at all,” wrote Rabbi Yitzchok Meyer Leizerowski, one of the rabbinical judges on the court.
“Matters are clarified as much as possible, a bill of divorce is written and given, however it is already impossible to clarify their past in a thorough document,” he wrote.
“We are announcing publicly that it is impossible to rely just on a bill of divorce document given by a rabbinical court in order to determine Jewish status,” he added.
In Elkohen’s case, the rabbinical court had not delved into his Jewish status when he approached it requesting a divorce, Leizerowski told the Post Monday.
According to Halacha, such an investigation for issuing a bill of divorce is not required, and determination of Jewish status is a very different process, he said.
Elkohen did not respond to a request for comment.
According to historical records, Elkohen’s maternal great-grandmother was Bessie Knowles, who was buried in a Baptist cemetery in Salem, New Jersey.