Number of people deemed not Jewish enough to marry in Israel has doubled over seven years

JERUSALEM (JTA) – The number of people rejected as being not Jewish for the purposes of marriage in Israel appears to have more than doubled in the past seven years, according to data from the country’s rabbinical courts.

In 2010, the number of Jews who registered to marry in Israel and then had their Jewish status revoked, making them unable to marry, was 103, or 3.1 per cent of all Israelis who registered to marry that year. In 2017, some 231 of those registering to marry had their Jewish status revoked, or some 6.7 per cent of those who registered to marry. In 2016, the number of those registering to marry who had their Jewish status revoked was 248, but it represented 6.1 per cent of those registering to marry.

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 per cent 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 a Jewish grandparent to become a citizen.

Some 6,727 names appear on the Chief Rabbinate’s list of those deemed unable to marry as a Jew in Israel.

The figures appear in a report prepared by the Knesset Research and Information Center ahead of a meeting held Tuesday by the Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. Tuesday’s hearing dealt with the large number of Israelis deemed not Jewish for the purpose of marriage by the Chief Rabbinate.

Prior to their marriage, Jewish couples must present evidence to the rabbinical courts attesting to their Jewishness. Such evidence usually includes parents’ ketubahs, or Jewish wedding certificates, and in the case of immigrants, a letter from their former community rabbi attesting to their Jewishness.

The rabbinical courts since 2016 have added people to the list of questionable Jewishness without their requesting certification of their Jewishness when, for example, another relative fails to have their Jewish status clarified.

Itim, a non-profit that guides Israelis through the country’s religious bureaucracy, appealed the procedure to the Supreme Court last year, claiming that the rabbinical courts are not entitled to inquire into a person’s Jewish status unless that person sought state services on their own.

“The conduct of the rabbinical courts on this matter goes first and foremost against Jewish law,” Rabbi Seth Farber, the founder of Itim, said in a statement. “According to Jewish law, when a person comes and says that he is Jewish, he is to be believed. 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. 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. The rabbinical courts today act, sadly, without basic morals or standards.”

The Rabbinical Courts’ administration told the Hebrew-language Walla news website that the data presented to the committee was “manipulated.”

“According to the data of the Rabbinical Courts, an overwhelming majority of 97 per cent of the applicants for Jewish clarification receive a decision confirming their Jewishness, and only 3 per cent, despite the efforts of the Jewish Inquiry Department to assist them, are not confirmed, apparently because in these cases they are not really Jewish,” Walla quoted the court as saying.

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