Everyone who works in the Israeli Rabbinate bureaucracy should be required to study the Talmud’s sad story of Timna. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 99b) condemns those who push potential converts away by relating that Isaac and Jacob pushed away Timna the sister of Lotan who wanted to become Jewish. So she then married a son of Esau. One of her descendants was Amalek who attacked Israel shortly after they escaped from Egypt. If, instead of being pushed away, Timna had become Jewish, Amalek would have been on our side, and not one of our enemies.
Today’s ultra-orthodox rabbi bureaucrats use the power given to them by the Knesset to prevent Jews from marring each other; as equally sinful and anti Jewish an act as pushing away potential converts.
The number of people in Israel each year whose marriage plans are disrupted when their Jewish status is rejected by Israel’s rabbinate has doubled since 2010 according to Itim, a nonprofit organization that guides Israelis through the country’s religious bureaucracy.
In 2010, the number of Jews who registered to marry in Israel and were unable to because of doubts over their Jewish status was 103, or 3.1% of all Israelis who registered to marry that year. In 2017, some 231 of those registering to marry, or some 6.7%, were unable to prove to the rabbinate that they were Jewish, according to data presented at a Knesset hearing.
During the same years, the number of people on a list of Israelis whose Jewish status is “pending clarification” rose from 90 in 2010 to 175 in 2017.
Up to 20% of Israeli couples are required to undergo background checks, most of them Russian speakers who immigrated under the Law of Return, which allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to become a citizen.
The figures appear in a report prepared by the Knesset Research and Information Center for a meeting of the Committee on Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs. In Israel marriage and divorce is handled only through Orthodox religious courts, so a Jewish couple must prove to the rabbinate that they are Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law. If one person of a couple is not acknowledged as Jewish, the couple have no legal way of marrying in Israel.
For purposes of marriage the rabbinate automatically accepts individuals as Jewish if their parents were married by an orthodox rabbi in Israel or by a recognized orthodox rabbi outside of Israel. Any individual who does not have the required paperwork is added to a list of those “pending clarification.
Rabbi Seth Farber, chairman of Itim, said in a statement that this approach of investigating Jewish status contradicts Jewish law. “According to Jewish law, when a person comes and says that he is Jewish, he is to be believed,”
Rabbi Farber also said. “Furthermore, if a clarification is needed, it is customary to do everything possible in order to approve the person’s Jewish status, and not the opposite.”
Farber said the rabbinical courts act “without basic morals or standards.” “The rabbinate has raised the bar to a level where most people who are Jewish wouldn’t be able to prove it. Moreover, they are invalidating Jewishness retroactively, which is unprecedented in Jewish history,” he said. “Any person who cares about the future of Judaism or Israel should recognize the danger in this phenomenon.”
One of the ways the rabbinate confirms Jewish identity of applicants is through a letter from a rabbi in their home community. In July 2017, JTA published a secret internal rabbinate “blacklist” of some 160 rabbis, including several prominent American Orthodox leaders, whom the Chief Rabbinate does not trust to confirm the Jewish identities of immigrants.
Rabbis from 24 countries, including the United States and Canada, were on the list. In addition to Reform and Conservative rabbis, the list includes Orthodox leaders like Avi Weiss, father of the Open Orthodoxy movement from the Riverdale section of New York.
The Chief Rabbinate later said the list was misconstrued, and was not a blacklist: it was something else. Indeed, it was outright slander, which is why it was kept secret .