Friday, July 30, 2010

Maybe I'm Not Jewish?

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.
The Wolf


Larry Lennhoff said...

If you're looking for a worthy cause to commit your life to, there are worse things than moving to Israel to fight the charedim. Personally I don't think they will wind up in control - but when the secular backlash comes it is going to be intense enough that I probably wouldn't want to live in that Israel either.

Ben Torah said...

Wolf: So you look at Haaretz as the Gospel. If there is one true sentence in that (or any) Haaretz story, it is surely coincidental and entirely unintentional.

The entire basis for your post has no foundation.

"(even if they do meet halachic standards that have been used for centuries).


BrooklynWolf said...


I have no reason to doubt Ms. Rubin's story. What basis do you have?

The Wolf


Elaborate please. How is this false and how does it undermine my entire arguemnt -- especially since, in this case, we're not even dealing with a convert.

The Wolf

Ben Torah said...

I have no reason to doubt Ms. Rubin's story.

What basis do you have to accept her accusations against the rabbinate? Her word, without knowing the rabbinite's position of what communications transpired between them?

What basis do you even have that she herself indicated what Haaretz claims she indicated?

Haaretz's say so? Haaretz's accuracy is comparable to Der Strumer.

BrooklynWolf said...

Sorry, I don't play that game.

When you start suggesting that a mainstream Israeli newspaper is comparable to a Nazi rag, I lose all desire to debate you.

I have no problem with the possibility that I'm wrong. But when you start calling up the "Nazi" rhetoric, then you're clearly not interested (or possibly capable) in debating rationally.

The Wolf

Ben Torah said...

You realize you lost the argument on the merits, but have no courage to so admit.

Be well.

BrooklynWolf said...

You realize you lost the argument on the merits, but have no courage to so admit.

There was no argument to lose. I simply choose not to debate people who make absurd comparisons to Nazis.

The Wolf

Ben Torah said...

You had no response to the points, even Der Strumer aside.

You need some integrity.

BrooklynWolf said...

You had no response to the points, even Der Strumer aside

That's right, because you have shown that you are interested in honest debate... so I don't bother.

You need some integrity.

This from someone who honestly thinks Ha'aretz is like Der Strumer.

Nonetheless, refusing to debate someone who doesn't understand the difference between Israelis and Nazis is not a sign of lack of integrity.

The Wolf

Ben Torah said...

You need integrity to admit you lost the argument, rather than finding a fig leaf to claim why you are backing out of responding.

BrooklynWolf said...

You need integrity to admit you lost the argument, rather than finding a fig leaf to claim why you are backing out of responding.

Very well. If that's what you want to believe, so be it. I can't stop you from believing what you want to believe. Feel free to believe in whatever fantasies you like.

The Wolf

Ben Torah said...

You have posted many of your fantasies on this very blog, over the years with your posts.

I could never compete with such fanciful long-term fantasies.

BrooklynWolf said...

C'mon, Ben Torah, don't be shy. Let me know how you *truly* feel. :)

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

BTW, Ben Torah,

Feel free to stop by and comment on other posts. As long as you don't start making ridiculous comparisons to Nazis (unless we are actually talking about Nazis, of course), I'll be more than happy to tangle with you.

If you truly believe my posts are "fantasies" and you're willing to debate honestly without absurd rhetoric, then you are more than welcome here.

The Wolf

Critically Observant Jew said...

Back to the topic at hand. What's interesting that she is not the first American Olah / Oleh trying to get married. I know quite a few Olim from the U.S. (most of them observant - though not Charedi), who did get married in Israel. And I'm pretty sure they didn't have documents to 4th generation. And not all of them come from observant families. How come did they get married and this Olah didn't?

I think that an answer could be the bureaucracy and the notion of "protektzia" in Israel. I.e. knowing what to say, knowing the right people, etc. Maybe this particular Olah didn't talk the right way with the rabbanut, cultural miscommunication, etc.

So the issue is not really "U.S. Olim Can't Get Married in Israel unless proven Jewish". The issue is of standards and bureaucracy. So let's hope that problem will be fixed in Israel.

The article, even though its content may be accurate, does not paint the whole picture however. If it was a complete picture, there would be many more cases of American Olim being unable to get married.

Mark said...

My wife didn't have adequate documentation before we were married and the Rabbanut was hassling us. After trying to get hold of a particular Rabbi (on the Rabbanut list) from her home town to write a letter (he was on vacation and couldn't be reached), we gave up and instead I used protekzia (of the very respected Charedi kind on my side of the family) and suddenly everything was okay - no additional documentation necessary, here's your paperwork, pay the fee, and off you go to get married.

The Rabbanut are a bunch of petty, megalomaniac, corrupt control freaks, and the organization needs to be disbanded. Anything that would replace it would be better than the current situation.

E-Man said...

Is Ms. Rubin currently conservative? It seems like the Rabbinate is trying to weed out anyone who is not orthodox. I wonder if they won;t even allow non-charaidim to consider themselves Jews in the future? Who knows what this might lead to.

I agree with the sentiment the state has always had, if hitler thought you were good enough to die as a Jew, then the Jewish state should consider you good enough to live as a Jew.

Critically Observant Jew said...

The comment from Mark proves my point. It's corruption, bureaucracy, lack of official standards and lack of an agency enforcing such standards. However, it's not "US Olim Can't get married in Israel issue".

Also, this brings the other side of the coin: maybe you don't need to be Jewish to be issued a marriage certificate by Rabbanut if you have adequate protektzia (or bribes)?

Just throwing this question out...

Larry Lennhoff said...

It isn't just not being Orthodox - it is not having lifelong connections to the Orthodox community. A BT oleh friend of mine with 4 living Jewish grandparents wound up marrying in the US because he could not prove he was Jewish to the satisfaction of the rabbinate. His O rabbi in American hadn't known him long enough, and as a kid he was completely unaffiliated and there was no rabbi (and they wanted an O rabbi in particular) who could vouch for the family. His parents were civilly married only.

The thing is all the excuses you hear people saying to excuse the rabbinate don't really apply to this case. He already was an oleh, he was a desirable oleh (observant, technology worker unlikely to end up on the dole). There just wasn't any question about whether he was an economic immigrant, and he was an American citizen, so he wasn't looking for asylum. It really seems to be the case that the rabbinate is defaulting to the case that you aren't Jewish without positive proof.

E-Man said...

Worst part is that he is living in Israel so what happens when his kids try to get married?

Gil Student said...

EVERYONE from chutz la'aretz has to prove that they are Jewish to the Rabbanut before getting married in Israel. But I believe that she can have a recognized beis din in the US testify in writing that she is Jewish. When my sister got married, the BDA wrote her a letter. This woman apparently had regular rabbis write her letters rather than a recognized beis din. There's nothing wrong with the Rabbanut rejecting letters from rabbis they've never heard of who for all they know could be fake. Perhaps they just didn't explain all of the available options.

Zendette said...

Excellent post! It's heartening to read non-Israelis post about this outrageous situation. when i got married almost 10 years ago, they hassled me but protekzia helped.

Today i have two adopted children, adopted from non-Jewish countries and am bending over for the Rabbanut for their benefit.

Anonymous said...

I believe you. My cousin made ahliya. In fact, he was brought to Israel at age 8, went to Israeli schools, served in the Army. And the rabbis wouldn't let him marry in Israel because he couldn't prove that his mother's synagogue where she was married in the US was "Jewish enough" even though he had the Ketubah. It was conservative. He went to Cyprus to get married.

I'll be damned if I'm going to give Israel any money if they are going to let these schmucks run peoples' lives

Zach Kessin said...

Speaking as an American Oleh in Israel (and the one who IM'd the Wolf about that job FWIW) I can say that since I am a BT and my parents did not have a kettubah, or if they did it is long since lost one of the reasons that we got married in the USA was avoiding the rabbinute.

I don't know if this story in the paper is true or not, but I have heard many other stories about the rabbinute making BT's converts and random others jump threw all sorts of hoops before they can get married.

Zvika said...

Speaking as an American child of Israeli Citizens, I had this experience:

I got married in the US and still had problems with the Rabbanut when my wife went to the Misrad HaPnim to get her Teudat Zehut. They didn't want to accept our marriage because a Charedi Rav married us. In fact, the Rav was someone who the Rabbanut calls regularly to ask about other Rabbanim's reliability. I got upset, reached over the window, grabbed the clerk's phone, dialed Nefesh B'Nefesh's number and made the clerk speak to them. The clerk was totally humiliated basically halfway to tears, then apologized and promised to never give us a hard time again. She kept her word and we had a very easy time getting my wife's Israeli passport. So getting married in the US doesn't necessarily help.

As for revoking Jewishness, they can yank my jewishness for all I care, but it doesn't matter. I can prove I'm Jewish - I spoke with my grandparents and I have a family tree that goes back to the 1800s.

The Rabbanut is a corrupt organization. But the Eida Charedit is actually worse, so given the two options, get married in the US, even if you might have some headaches upon returning to Israel.

Zach Kessin said...

I'm probably the guy with 4 grandparents Larry was talking about (Well I had 4 then).

All we had to show to Misrad haPanim was the NY State Marriage licence

Leora said...

To echo Larry's first comment, it would be great if you would move to Israel and give more power to those who would make these laws less crazy (not sure how else to word this...).

MrsHillyG said...

Hi, I am the young woman in question. I am trying to clear the air about a few things, so I will say it all over again.

1) I am a Jew. My maternal grandmother was in Auschwitz and did not convert to Judaism OR from Judaism. No such thing has happened in my family. She came from a religious family - as did my maternal grandfather (not that anyone cares).

2) I am the great-great-niece of Nachum Sokolow, not his great-granddaughter. He was my paternal grandfather's uncle. This doesn't matter in my lineage but the paper thought it would gain more attention - which it clearly has.

3) I love being Jewish. I may be an observant Conservative Jew but it's the only religion I've ever known. Until now, I never knew Judaism or Jews in general to be so harsh and unwelcoming.

4) I'm not anti-religious or anti-Charadi. I have quite a few family members who are religious and Charadi and I do not hate them or despise them. They are my family and fellow Jews. Hashem taught us to love one another - not be spiteful and full of hate.

5) I love the State of Israel - with all my heart. I do not like the practices of the Rabbanut but I appreciate their role in keeping the land of Israel Jewish.

6) The way I was treated in the Rabbanut is above and beyond disgraceful and disgusting... and it wasn't just me - my fiance (who was raised Orthodox) was also told to go to the Beit Din because they weren't sure he was Jewish either.

Finally, at the end of the day - most things are about politics and power. We were caught in the middle. This was just our story. Follow one of my blogs and you can follow the rest of the story.

BrooklynWolf said...

EVERYONE from chutz la'aretz has to prove that they are Jewish to the Rabbanut before getting married in Israel. But I believe that she can have a recognized beis din in the US testify in writing that she is Jewish.

Well, then, I'm really out of luck if I ever decide to make aliyah, aren't I? I don't hobnob around with rabbis all that often. There is no chance I can get a recognized Bais Din to attest to my Jewishness because I don't know anyone on a recognized Bais Din and if they don't know me, how can they possibly write a letter attesting to my Jewishness?

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

Hi, I am the young woman in question.

Thank you, Ms. Rubin, for weighing in on the matter and filling in the gaps in the story.

I wish you Mazal Tov on your upcoming marriage and only joy and happiness.

The Wolf

Samuel Roth said...

Hi Hillary,

A couple of clarifications, if that's okay with you.

1) Who told you that you need additional documents. i.e. Was it the secretary working in the rabbinate office?

2) Specifically what documents were demanded? And for how many generations?

3) When you advised him that due to the holocaust they were destroyed, what precisely (more or less) was his response?

4) Did you try to appeal to his superiors within the rabbinate? To whom, and what was their response? Or did you simply drop the matter after the entry-level person you spoke to asked you for those documents?

5) Are you born from your mothers first marriage?

Thanks and good luck!

Dan said...

Hillary, your silence is deafening.