March 01, 2008

Who's a Jew?

Steve Sailer points me to this article in the New York Times regarding the strict criteria adopted by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel:
One day last fall, a young Israeli woman named Sharon went with her fiancé to the Tel Aviv Rabbinate to register to marry. They are not religious, but there is no civil marriage in Israel. The rabbinate, a government bureaucracy, has a monopoly on tying the knot between Jews. The last thing Sharon expected to be told that morning was that she would have to prove — before a rabbinic court, no less — that she was Jewish. It made as much sense as someone doubting she was Sharon, telling her that the name written in her blue government-issue ID card was irrelevant, asking her to prove that she was she.


In recent years, the state’s Chief Rabbinate and its branches in each Israeli city have adopted an institutional attitude of skepticism toward the Jewish identity of those who enter its doors. And the type of proof that the rabbinate prefers is peculiarly unsuited to Jewish life in the United States. The Israeli government seeks the political and financial support of American Jewry. It welcomes American Jewish immigrants. Yet the rabbinate, one arm of the state, increasingly treats American Jews as doubtful cases: not Jewish until proved so.


Seth Farber is an American-born Orthodox rabbi whose organization — Itim, the Jewish Life Information Center — helps Israelis navigate the rabbinic bureaucracy. He explained to me recently that the rabbinate’s standards of proof are now stricter than ever, and stricter than most American Jews realize. Referring to the Jewish federations, the central communal and philanthropic organizations of American Jewry, he said, “Eighty percent of federation leaders probably wouldn’t be able to reach the bar.” To assist people like Sharon, Farber has become a genealogical sleuth. He is the first to warn, though, that solving individual cases cannot solve a deeper crisis.

If you want to find out the end of Sharon's story, read the article. This story highlights the deep divide between those with a more subjectivistic idea of religious identity or ethnicity, emphasizing self-image, and those seeking a set of more objective criteria.


Anonymous said...

They're only following the race laws of their Talmud, which was the first official document which forbade interbreeding, a predecessor to the Nuremberg Race Laws. The way the Jews in Israel see it, is that they're doubtful of the purity of the Jews in America since interbreeding in America is wide-scale.

Crimson Guard said...

Its widely known that Israel has a form of Theocracy, and its not a Democracy as popularly portrayed in the worlds media. Over there non-religious Jews have a hard time against the Hasidic ones, who make up much of the ruling elite. From what I understand, is that when a Jewish person wants to marry a non-Jewish person in Israel, it isnt recognized nor allowed.

UncleTomRuckusInGoodWhiteWorld said...

They imported over 100 thousand Ethiopian Jews and they are concerned with the purity of the Jews in America? LOL

Howard said...

First of all, thank you Dienekes for adding a new comment engine that includes validation of identity.

I feel a deep feeling of unease in my stomach for these comments and others that "racialize" these issues in Israel.

In fact, the support of both Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish communities for the resettlement of Ethiopian Jewry in Israel has been overwhelming. Neither Sephardic nor Ashkenazi rabbinical authorities subscribe to the "racial" theories of who is a Jew that these posts imply.

The outpouring of support from the world Jewish community for the Ethiopian Jews, their willingness to bear the huge costs of resettlement in Israel, is without precendent, and is a demonstration of how colorblind Judaism really is.

The position of ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi rabbinical authorities on "Who is a Jew" has more to do with their conflicts with non-Orthodox jewish movements (masorti and reform) that increasingly are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic.

The extent of conflict between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewry is completely overstated and distorted here. That is very unfortunate.

Howard Metzenberg

Howard said...


The political system in Israel allows the most extreme elements of the rabbinate to have undue influence, way out of proportion to their numbers, because they can deliver votes to support a majority coalition.

Although their positions are very strict, they are quite consistent in their positions, and these positions are based on a strict interpretation of Jewish law, not on race. These rabbinical authorities pose similar difficulties for all Jewish groups. Wouldn't you think that in the interest of Jewish survival in a hostile world, facing both assimilation and antisemitism, that Jews from around the world would be welcomed in Israel?

I thought the New York Times article was excellent and really got the issue right. The comments above attempt to read into the controversy a "racial" content that simply isn't there.

lkdjf said...
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