Court rules against Liberman, in favor of Jewishness DNA testing

In the majority decision, penned by Justice Neal Hendel, it was determined that the petition didn't present sufficient evidence proving that the rabbinate's actions were discriminatory.

Israeli High Court hearing on whether Netanyahu can form next government despite indictment he faces. (December 31, 2019) (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Israeli High Court hearing on whether Netanyahu can form next government despite indictment he faces. (December 31, 2019)
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
A petition filed by Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman and numerous other private individuals against the usage of DNA testing to confirm Jewishness by the Chief Rabbinate was struck down by the High Court of Justice, multiple reports confirmed.
In the majority decision, penned by Justice Neal Hendel, it was determined that the petition didn't present sufficient evidence claiming that the rabbinate had acted in a discriminatory manner.
According to the decision, the petition raised the issue of rabbinical courts reexamining the Jewish status of someone already recognized as Jewish, as well as the issue of conducting DNA tests to prove it.
To that effect, the petition indicates a lack of clarity regarding the rules used in rabbinical courts, according to Hendel.
“For example, in the preliminary response, it was argued that the proposal to conduct [DNA] testing is only made when the rest of the material presented is not sufficient, i.e., in cases in which, without such testing, the person’s Judaism would not be recognized," he wrote in the decision.
"According to this line of thinking, the proposal to do testing can only benefit the person being tested, whether he accepts the testing or refuses to undergo the test."
However, as the representative of the rabbinate argued in the court, refusing to be tested could be used as casting greater suspicion on the Jewish status of an individual.
As such, the rabbinate is required to issue new, written rules on the issue and process within a year, the decision explained.
"If a procedure is not produced in writing in this time – the petitioners may submit a new petition," it added.
The minority opinion, written by Justice Noam Sohlberg, explained that there shouldn't be any requirement for the rabbinate to issue written rules.
“The genetic testing in question is only a possibility available, at the choice of the applicant and his family, as per their judgment," Sohlberg explained in his opinion.
"In circumstances in which there is insufficient evidence presented by the applicant to firmly prove his Judaism, genetic testing could be of help to him and strengthen his evidence, the more that a family relationship is established between him and others whose Judaism has been clearly determined."
Sohlberg also pointed out that doing the testing could be far more convenient and practical than attempting to locate and obtain appropriate documents, as well as pointing to the very high rate of confirmation in Judaism over the past few years.
The usage of DNA testing to confirm Judaism has been a matter of significant controversy recently, particularly over its use on Ashkenazi Jews from the former Soviet Union (FSU).
The rabbi behind the 2017 rabbinical decision to permit using DNA testing, Rabbi Yosef Carmel, explained to The Jerusalem Post that according to experts in history and genealogy, 40% of Ashkenazi Jews descended fully from just four Jewish women, who left the Middle East 1,000 years ago.
Not all rabbis agree with the method, with some pointing to a ruling made by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who overturned a decision from a lower rabbinical court rejecting a man's Jewish status.
The usage of tests was officially confirmed in March 2019 when Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau admitted that the rabbinate uses it.
Though backlash came from a variety of sources, the most significant was from Israelis from the FSU.
According to halacha, there are over 400,000 Israelis from the FSU that are not considered Jewish. In addition, there are 700,000 Israelis from the FSU that routinely have their Jewish status challenged by the Chief Rabbinate.
Though the rabbinate insists that nobody is forced to take the DNA test, some, such as ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber, point out that the only way to get married in Israel is through the rabbinate, which will necessitate the test.
Throughout 2018, approximately 20 engaged couples with at least one partner from FSU were asked to take the test in order to have their marriages in Israel registered.
In one reported account, a couple already legally married by the rabbinate were told to take the test when attempting to get divorced.
Another rabbi, Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, CEO of the Hashgacha Pratit organization which runs a service to get married outside the rabbinate called Chuppot, the practice is simply racist and discriminatory.
“The truth must be told – the Chief Rabbinate is trying to disguise separationism and racism with halachic arguments that are unreasonable and not required," he said.
"The chief rabbis are invited to visit us at Chuppot in order to learn how to clarify the status of Judaism without disrespecting people.”
Liberman also slammed the move, saying, “From the perspective of the rabbinic establishment, the Judaism of this great community, which all agree has made a great contribution to Israeli society, is automatically suspect.”
An immigrant from the FSU himself, Liberman campaigned heavily in the September elections on issues of religion and state, notably the power of the rabbinate in cases of conversion and marriage.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.