Friday, July 30, 2010

Think You're Jewish? Prove it!

What a disgrace!

I charge the heterodox movements with responsibility for it. But I also charge the current Charedi controlled Rabbinate in Israel with treating fellow Jews with contempt in the name of religion. I refer to the case of Hillary Rubin (pictured). She is a grandchild of the holocaust. Her grandparents are survivors of the holocaust.

She now lives in Israel and is an observant Jew. But when it came time for her to get married, she was told by the by the Herzliya rabbinate that she needed to bring the Kesubos (religious marriage contracts) of grandmothers going back 4 generations to prove her Jewishness.

The problem is that any such documentation was destroyed in the holocaust. She cannot provide any such proof. The fact that she brought letters of testimony from 5 people one of whom was a Chabad rabbi made no difference to them. Neither did the fact that it was impossible for her to provide documentation they asked for due to the holocaust. They just said it was her problem, not theirs.

I understand the issues involved. One must be Jewish to get married to another Jew. If there is any doubt about it it needs to be proven. In our day where heterodox movements are doing conversions that are not in accordance with Halacha and in one instance accepts patrilineal descent as equally determining one Jewishness – it can be a problem. It is quite reasonable to ascertain the Jewish status of an individual that was so defined by a heterodox movement and not born Jewish via matrilineal descent.

But how far do we go with that? When is a rabbinical court justified in insisting on impossibly draconian demands like those made upon Ms. Rubin? It would seem that it doesn’t take much. All it takes is a person raised in a non Orthodox home. I cannot imagine this woman’s outrage at this. She had parents and grandparents that were Jewish - and she had testimony from at least one kosher witness - a Chabad Rabbi.

I wonder how this type of thing will progress in the current conversion climate in Israel. Israel is trying to tighten the conversion law. By giving the Charedi controlled rabbinate ultimate authority over conversions - where will the line be drawn in the future? Whose Judaism will be questioned next? Will every non Orthodox Jew be denied the sacraments of marriage because of their inability to produce documentation going back four generations? How many descendants are there of holocaust survivors whose documents were destroyed? How dare they make those kinds demands!

And why stop with non Orthodox? There are plenty of Orthodox Jews who are children of Baalei Teshuva who were raised in non Orthodox homes. Will they now be required to prove their Jewishness going back 4 generations? And what about all the sincere conversions of parents who were converted by courts that didn’t make the cut of those approved by the rabbinate? Are all their children now suspect? Will they also be told to bring Kesuvos going back 4 generations?

And why stop there? We are all suspect, are we not? Who is to say that our parents were really Jews without proof going back 4 generations? My grandparents died in the holocaust too. My parents told me they were Frum. But that is the sum and substance of my proof. I have no clue or proof whether my maternal great-great grandmother was Jewish. Why should my children be treated any differently than Ms. Rubin was? Why should anyone’s children be treated differently?

But we are. Those of us who are raised Frum are assumed to be Jewish. I doubt that any one of us were ever required to bring any proof at all about it. But those of us who are not in this category – if things keep going in this direction – will be written out of Judaism!

This is a grossly unfair approach which serves to destroy Heterodoxy by destroying the lives of non Orthodox Jews. These are not honorable intentions. They are divisive and destructive ones. I realize there is an increasing ‘Jewish status’ problem. But prejudicial treatment of non Orthodox Jews is not the way to solve the problem.

Unless all Jews are subjected to the same standards - no one should be. Unless a serious question is raised about a questionable conversion or there is some evidence that one is not Halachicly Jewish, most Jews have a Chezkas Kashrus and should be presumed to be Jewish. The vast majority of Conservative Jews no matter how religious or secular were born of a Jewish mother.

However Reform Jews - because of rampant intermarriage and patrilineal descent may eventually lose their Chaezkas Kashrus as Jews. And they may ultimately and unfortunately be required to prove their Judaism– which is a very sad fact. But even they should not be required to go back 4 generations at this point in time.

It is grossly unfair to treat our fellow Jews this way just because they were not raised in an Orthodox home. Ms. Rubin - whose parents and grandparents are Jewish - and who had a letter from a Kosher witness testifying to her Judaism - is Jewish. And the court that rejected her Judaism – asking her to do the impossible – reveals the true motive of these rabbis. It is to eliminate ‘lesser Jews’ from our ranks. This attitude ought not to be allowed to stand.