You’re Jewish – prove it
What shouldhave been the happiest time of Sagit’s life turned into a nightmare. According to their documents, her mother and grandmother are Jewish and her parents were married by a Chabad rabbi, but even so, she’s being asked to convert in order to marry. The new regulations provide that this can happen to you too
In the wake of my article about the new guidelines, Sagit called and told me her story. She came on aliyah with her parents when she was 9 and has been living in Israel for 19 years. Even though her family wasn’t observant in Russia, everyone in Mogilov, Belarus, knew they were a Jewish family.
When she registered to get married, she was sent to a rabbinic court investigator. The investigator, who apparently was particularly unfriendly, asked to see documentation. Sagit and her mother presented the birth certificates of Sagit’s mother and her grandmother in both of which it was written that they were Jews. This should have been enough. It’s true that the documents were replicas and not originals, as is the case with most of the documents of immigrants from Russia, but the mother’s document was a replica from 1958, when she was 12 years old (at that time, who would have considered forging a document in order to add that she was Jewish?) Regarding the replica of the grandmother’s document, testimony was brought before the court in Mogilov that the grandmother was known to be Jewish and that her parents had been killed in the ghetto. But the rabbinic court in Israel isn’t prepared to accept the ruling of the court in Mogilov. After checking with the archives of the offices in Mogilov, it turned out that they don’t retain original documents from before 1962.
'Convert? Why should I convert, I’m Jewish!'
The rabbinic court investigator sent Sagit to the project “Shoreshim” run by the organization “Tzohar.” They also didn’t receive her kindly there. According to her, the investigator said something like “I really hope that you are telling the whole truth” or “think very, very carefully about what you’re saying.” At the end of the day Tzohar’s investigator told her “I could have helped you more if you had come to me first.”
Sagit complains to me: “How was I supposed to know to go to Tzohar before I went to the rabbinic court? How is it possible that all of this power to determine my fate is in the hands of one man? How could it be that the State doesn’t let me get married?”
Sagit’s questions are excellent. I don’t have any answers. Another interesting part of the story is that Sagit’s parents were married according to religious law by Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, the rabbi of Kfar Chabad, after their aliyah to Israel. In Russia there weren’t Jewish weddings, and her parents were happy about the idea of holding a religious wedding ceremony after they came to Israel. No one forced them to do it. They did it because they are Jewish. The rabbi of Kfar Chabad would not have officiated at their wedding if he hadn’t looked into the matter, with the help of Russian speakers, and ascertained that they were indeed Jewish. When they told the investigator this, he said: “That’s not evidence. They didn’t know how to investigate then, and they couldn’t have known if your parents were Jewish or not.”
Sagit can’t sleep at night due to the stress and the anger. What should have been the happiest time of her life has turned into a nightmare. And worst of all, the rabbinic court has essentially stripped her of her Jewish identity and has determined that she’s not Jewish and she can’t get married in the State of Israel.
The investigator suggested that she convert. “Convert? Why should I convert, I’m Jewish!,” Sagit says. Even from the purely religious perspective this is an outrage. Who knows how many Jews will “turn into” non-Jews because of some investigator who thinks that a particular document is insufficient to prove that they’re Jews.
I wonder: Could the investigator prove that he’s Jewish? Can the dayanim - who are now questioning whether tens of thousands of people are Jewish – prove that they’re Jews? Is this something that can even be proven? Let the Jew who can prove that he’s Jewish step forward. In fact, other than someone who has a certificate of conversion, there is no Jew in the world who can prove he’s Jewish.
Rivka Lubitch is a rabbinic pleader who works at the Center for Women’s Justice , tel. 02-5664390.