Member of Subbotnik community appeals to make aliya

Interior Ministry said no to Russian woman despite her mother's prior immigration as a Jew.

subbotnik 248.88 (photo credit: )
subbotnik 248.88
(photo credit: )
The High Court of Justice will hold a hearing on a petition Thursday that could have ramifications for 20,000 Russians whose Jewish status is being questioned by the State of Israel. Lubov Gonchareva, 48, a member of the "Subbotnik" community in Vysoky, southwest Russia, has been denied the right to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return by the Interior Ministry. The ministry refused Gonchareva's request despite the fact that her mother was permitted to immigrate under the Law of Return and was recognized by a Chief Rabbinate Rabbinical Court as a full-fledged Jew. In response, Gonchareva, together with Shavei Israel, an organization that assists "lost Jews," petitioned the court in June 2007 to permit Gonchareva to make aliya like her mother did. However, the Jewish status of the Subbotnik community in Russia is uncertain. Contemporary Subbotniks are the descendents of one of several sects located in rural southern Russia who embraced aspects of Judaism about two centuries ago. Most of these sects continued to adhere to Russian Orthodox Christianity but changed their day of rest to Saturday. However, the Subbotniks, who see themselves as Jews and do not call themselves Subbotniks but rather Gerim (Hebrew for converts), apparently went further and embraced Jewish practice. They suffered as Jews under the Czarist and Communist regimes. Famous Zionist figures such as the late IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Rafael Eitan and Alexander Zaid, founder of the pre-state self-defense organization Hashomer were descents of Subbotniks. Last year, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is responsible for determining Jewish status for the purpose of marriage, published a halachic opinion saying it could not be determined whether the Subbotniks were Jews. Therefore, they must undergo conversion to be recognized as such. Nevertheless, they had a significant connection to the Jewish people and should be encouraged to come to Israel, he said. Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, said that it was the state's responsibility to bring the the Subbotniks to Israel. "Subbotniks suffered Czarist persecution and Soviet oppression and they were murdered by the Nazis because they embraced Judaism," said Freund. "Therefore the State of Israel has the responsibility to bring them here and government policy has to change," he said. The Interior Ministry said its policy remained unchanged. "In the past it was determined that anyone belonging Subbotnik community who married a non-Jew outside the community forfeited his or her right to immigrate," the ministry said. When Gonchareva married a non-Jew, the ministry said, she forfeited her right to automatic citizenship. "The petition under discussion is dealing with members of the community who chose to leave their community and marry non-Jews. These people are not defined as community members who are eligible to come to Israel as Jews. Since this issue is being discussed in the High Court of Justice, our detailed response will be presented to the court," the ministry said. Freund said the ministry did not address the fact that Gonchareva's mother was recognized as a Jew. "Regardless of whom Lubov decides to spend her life with, she has the right to come to Israel because she is Jewish and her parents are Jewish. "Also, the Interior Ministry is saying that the Law of Return is being applied to the Subbotniks. But if they marry out they cease to have that right to citizenship. "There is no such legal position and it is neither moral nor Zionist, and that is what we are challenging in the court," Freund said.