June 15, 2019
Some Jew in The Guardian is claiming that Judaism is a “religious identity,” and it should always be classified that way so the Nazis don’t rise again.
But he’s concerned that the rising use of DNA tests could make people once again think the Jews are a race.
And he doesn’t think Israel should be embracing this.
In February of this year, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reported that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the peak religious authority in the country, had been requesting DNA tests to confirm Jewishness before issuing some marriage licenses.
In Israel, matrimonial law is religious, not civil. Jews can marry Jews, but intermarriage with Muslims or Christians is legally unacknowledged. This means that when a Jewish couple want to tie the knot, they are required by law to prove their Jewishness to the Rabbinate according to Orthodox tradition, which defines Jewish ancestry as being passed down through the mother.
While for most Israeli Jews this simply involves handing over their mother’s birth or marriage certificate, for many recent immigrants to Israel, who often come from communities where being Jewish is defined differently or documentation is scarce, producing evidence that satisfies the Rabbinate’s standard of proof can be impossible.
In the past, confirming Jewishness in the absence of documentation has involved contacting rabbis from the countries where people originate or tracking genealogical records back to prove religious continuity along the matrilineal line. But as was reported in Haaretz, and later confirmed by David Lau, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, in the past year, the rabbis have been requesting that some people undergo a DNA test to verify their claim before being allowed to marry.
For many Israelis, news that the rabbinical judges were turning to DNA testing was shocking, but for Seth Farber, an American-born Orthodox rabbi, it came as no surprise. Farber, who has been living in Israel since the 1990s, is the director of Itim, the Jewish Life Information Center, an organization that helps Israeli Jews navigate state-administered matters of Jewish life, like marriage and conversion. In the past year, the organization has seen up to 50 cases where families have been asked to undergo DNA tests to certify their Jewishness.
Those being asked to take these tests, Farber told me, are mostly Russian-speaking Israelis, members of an almost 1 million-strong immigrant community who began moving to Israel from countries of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Due to the fact that Jewish life was forcefully suppressed during the Soviet era, many members of this community lack the necessary documentation to prove Jewishness through matrilineal descent. This means that although most self-identify as Jewish, hundreds of thousands are not considered so by the Rabbinate, and routinely have their Jewish status challenged when seeking religious services, including marriage.
As a Nazi, I do approve of this. And hope this issue continues to be in the news.
Jews are a race. Many members of that race follow a religion, which is actually just all about their race. But not being religious doesn’t make them any less Jewish.