Ha'aretz published an article today about Hillary Rubin, a 29-year-old Detroit native who was raised in a Conservative household made aliyah four year ago. Today she's a student who keeps Shabbos and kashrus -- and she's looking to get married. However, there seems to be a hangup -- the Rabbinate is asking for proof of her Jewishness. They want kesubos (marriage contracts) and death certificates going back four generations. This is an issue because most of her ancestors perished in the Holocaust. As such, the documents either no longer exist (the kesubos) or never existed in the first place (the death certificates). When she brought this to the attention of the Rabbinate, she was told that it's not their problem. She brought letters from four Conservative rabbis and a Chabad rabbi in Detroit attesting to her Jewishness. Not good enough. In the end, she's going to have to go to Cyprus for a civil ceremony.
If you've been paying attention at all, you're no doubt aware of the fact that the Rabbinate has been trying to take greater control of the "who is a Jew" question. They (and other groups around the world, such as the infamous EJF) have tried to take greater control of conversions, seeking to nullify conversions that don't meet their standards (even if they do meet halachic standards that have been used for centuries).
However, Rubin's case is different. She is not a convert. The article in Ha'aretz doesn't mention conversions at all. I'm guessing that none of her maternal ancestors (at least as far back as three or four generations) were converts (if I'm wrong, I'm willing to retract that). If so, what we're dealing with here is a case where the Rabbinate is now beginning to question the Jewishness of any person who doesn't come from an Orthodox background.
Not more than an hour ago (literally) a friend suggested that I make aliyah. He told me about tech jobs that are opening up there and that it is possible for a tech worker (such as myself) to make a decent living. But I have to wonder -- why should I even bother considering it?
My parents were not frum when they were married. As such, they did not have a kesubah. Furthermore, all my grandparents were born in New York. As such, their birth certificates and marriage certificates don't identify them as Jews. So, in the end, what proof do I have that I'm Jewish? Mind you, *I* know that I'm Jewish because I know my personal family history -- but the Rabbinate doesn't know that. Why should I make life difficult for myself and my kids -- where our very Jewishness is going to be questioned and probably cause troubles later in life?
You might make the argument that I'm already married and, hence, don't need to worry about marriage restrictions for myself. That's true, in and of itself. But I'm afraid the problems run far deeper than that.
Demographic studies show that the two largest growing population groups in Israel are Chareidim and Arabs. There is a good possibility that there will be a point when the Chareidim are the majority in Israel and fully control the government. When that happens, they'll have control over far more than simply marriages and conversions. What about citizenship? If I'm to move to Israel, what's to stop them from asking me for proof of my Jewishness on pain of being stripped of citizenship? What about burial? The last thing I would want to happen right after I shuffle off the mortal coil is to have a government tell my kids that I can't be buried where they want to bury me because I couldn't prove my Jewishness? And I would not be surprised if these issues were limited to marriage, citizenship and burial. Call me paranoid if you like, but I think that this has the potential to be a nightmare for every non-Orthodox Jew and every ba'al teshuva who might one day dream of living in Israel.
About six months ago, I wondered if I was truly Orthodox. Perhaps the better question I should be asking is if I'm even Jewish.