The Mistake of Passing Judgment on Someone’s Jewish Identity

In America, people on trial are innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the prosecutor, who has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. This system was designed to protect the rights of individuals, to protect their privacy and livelihood. This is apparently not the way the Chief Rabbinate in Israel believes we should treat Jews-by-Choice – or any Diaspora Jew who has moved to Israel, or an Israeli child of Jewish parents who were married abroad. According to new regulations, the burden of proof is on the individual to prove their Jewishness – guilty of not being Jewish until proven otherwise.

Writing on, Rivka Lubitch of the Center for Women’s Justice says sarcastically that “the good times have come.” New regulations now make it possible to go beyond “pursuing converts in order to determine” their Jewishness. Marriage registrars are now “required to send every convert, or every person whose parents were married abroad, to the court for a determination of whether or not s/he’s is a Jew” even if the rabbi who officiated is on the “official list of Diaspora rabbis recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.” They can send someone to court even if that person has adequately “proven” their Jewishness once before.

Furthermore, Lubitch describes this apparently permissible Kafkaesque scenario:

According to the new directives (and also according to what I know from my experience on the ground) even if you didn’t go to register for marriage, and even if you didn’t go to a rabbinic court for any reason, and even if you didn’t pass by a rabbinic court when you walked down the street – the rabbinic court can summon you, conduct a hearing about your Jewishness, and revoke it, if they so will.

These are grim new regulations that give far too much power to a select few. It shouldn’t be up to a philosophically narrow group of individuals to decide for the masses who is or isn’t Jewish. It’s one thing to require base-line standards for becoming Jewish. But adding these labyrinthine regulations that will allow the Jewish identity of so many to be called into question is appalling. “In effect, the entire nation of Israel is presumed to be Not-Jewish – until proven otherwise,” Lubitch writes. “There has never been a situation like this in Jewish history.”

Instead of insisting on these kinds of shameless standards to establish someone’s Jewishness, perhaps we should focus our efforts on promoting one of the most important biblical directives: to welcome the stranger. In other words, let’s accept someone’s Jewish identity without judgment. This is the philosophy that has helped us survive for thousands of years, and it’s what will ensure our vibrant Jewish future.


  1. It has been said that the oppressed often become oppressors themselves. This manner of judging and ruling over people’s identities sounds, dare I say (I hate to say…), almost Hitleresque.

    R. Helburn

    Comment by R. Helburn — June 3, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

  2. Gaining the privileges and recognition of being a Jew is not the same as requiring the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To penalize, we require the accuser to shoulder the burden of proof. On the civil side of the law, the one seeking the status or the gain in law, usually has some burden of proof. Once someone has already gained possession of a status, it falls upon the other party to prove why that status should not remain.

    This legislation appears to be obnoxiously intrusive. And it may be complete garbage.

    Ms. Lubitch is far more sophisticated religiously and halakhically it seems, than the author of this blog. Not that I could pass halakhic judgement. So I leave halakhic decisions and creativity to those who are well trained, have expansive minds, and believe in the God of Israel (that term should not be seen as a limiter in any way).

    Is the legislation good, bad, horrible? It demands knowledge prerequisites, study and debate. And by the way, I find myself very sympathetic to Ms. Lubitch’s organization.

    Comment by Steve — July 9, 2010 @ 9:29 am

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