Recently, there has been much discussion over the experience of Hillary Rubin trying to register to be married through the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
The story was picked up by the [Am] HaAretz Israeli daily, which took great pleasure in exploiting the opportunity to bash the Rabbinate, and the Torah establishment in general.
I suggest that you read Hillary's story in her own words, which can be found on her blog “Shmutz In My Head.”
I do not know all of the details, whether the scrutiny was warranted or not, nor do I know much else about Hillary, not her political views nor her religious ones. Mention was made of a “Conservative” spiritual leader, but I will set that aside for a moment.
However, I would like to take the opportunity to share a few points on this issue, with some of which Hillary may even agree. I cannot say. You will have to ask her yourself. After sharing these points, I will conclude this post with the story of a friend who also had to prove his “Jewishness.” Yet, I guarantee that you would never find such a story in the [Am] HaAretz newspaper, nor in any mainstream, Israeli news outlet.
First, my Esser Agaroth [10 ag'] on proving ones Jewishness....
1. We must all be held to the same standards. If Hillary Rubin must jump through hoops, then so should everyone else. My beard and payos should not make me nor anyone else an exception to any necessary scrutiny. One standard should not be used for Americans and another for sympathetic Jews from the Former Soviet Union who have little or no Jewish documents to support their claims.
I was surprised at the Rabbinate's reaction to Hillary's letters which included one from a Chabba”d rabbi. I have heard many cases when men had to bring two witnesses with them to the Rabbinate, in order to testify that the prospective hathan (groom) was, in fact, Jewish. Why was this method not employed for Hillary? Perhaps the Rabbinate had more details about the case than we. Certainly, we cannot count on the traditionally anti-Torah [Am] HaAretz newspaper to report on this case objectively. Nonetheless, I would be interested in knowing why this common procedure of bringing witnesses to testify on Hillary's behalf was not employed.
2. An overwhelmed Rabbinate with a back up of cases is no excuse for brushing people off, and telling people to convert. Sometimes photographs of Jewish grave markers combined with birth certificates of the Jew in question, his or her mother and maternal grandmother are requested. Yet, approach, too, needs to be presented in a sensitive manner. I agree with several of the points brought up on the Between Tel-Aviv And Jerusalem Blog. The tone of the rabbi(s) can have a big influence on the individual or couple with whom he is working. Will he succeed in sparking an interest in a non-religious couple to develop a connection with Torah community? Or will he turn-off such a couple completely? Yes, this is a big responsibility for [I can only assume] a rabbi who must turn over cases quickly. Yet, if we cannot count on the Rabbinate to step up to the plate, and accept its leadership role in this area, then who can we count on?
This sounds like a great opportunity to put many kollel participants to work, even for only a few hours a day each. It wouldn't cost anything. They are already getting paid. After all ולא המדרש הוא העיקר, אלא המעשה - אבות א,טז (The main point is the deed), right? Unfortunately, I doubt that many in the government want an increased presence of Haredim in the activities of the Chief Rabbinate, preferring to do what they can to break the “hold” they think the Rabbinate has on society. I also doubt that the Haredi leadership would be overjoyed over such a proposal either. Oh well.
3. There are a few sentences in Hillary's post which I found to be puzzling. Here is one:
If I'm Jewish enough to be hated by the world, I am Jewish enough to get married in the Jewish State. No one should EVER tell me otherwise.
This still does not answer the the question at hand. Sorry, Hillary, but this is not a halachic response to a halachic question. It is a rant.
Here is another:
Idiots will always be idiots. Haters will always hate. At the end of the day, I will still marry Craig and the Rabbanut cannot stop that.
I am not sure who she is talking about. I may disagree with the Israeli Chief Rabbinate at times, but I sincerely doubt they are idiots, and I equally doubt that they hate Hillary Rubin. Hillary, feelings are [mostly] irrelevant when it it comes to the halachic decision making process. In other words, when it comes to making a halachic decision,..."Just the facts, ma'am."
Another Story Of Proving Jewishness
I have a friend who lived in Israel under a work visa for a few years. While here, he mat an married his wife, a native Israeli. They were married through the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, and they lived happily ever after, right? Well, pretty much, but this friend of mine hit a snag. No, the snag was not with the Rabbinate. Even though he was relatively new to Torah observant life, he did what was necessary to prove his Jewishness, and was married. The snag came later with the Ministry of the Interior.
(To be fair, I had a very positive experience, applying for citizenship in Tel-Aviv with an apparently secular clerk, and with a kippah on my head. All that was required of me was a letter from my [Young Israel] rabbi,* and I was good to go.)
That was not the case for this friend of mine. Not only did he have his documents he had already presnted t the Rabbinate, he had is te'udath n'su'in (marriage certificate) and the kethubbah (traditional marriage contract) from his wedding. Yet, all this was not enough to prove his Jewishness for citizenship, which is a lesser standard than that for getting married?
My friend was being played. The fact that his kippah was crocheted and not black velvet did not make one bit of difference. He asked to jump through more than just hoops.
If he had presented a letter from a non-Torah observant spiritual leader, there never would have been a question. He simply would have been told to come back in 30 days to receive his te’udath zehuth (identification card) and “Mazal Tov!”
I recently found out that anyone converting in Israel must also go before a Ministry of Interior committee to receive approval for aliyah. This is apparently done to prevent people from taking advantage of the monetary rights of olim hadashim (new immigrants). Limits are also set on such a convert's right to work during the first year of residency. I am all for some kind of measures to be in place to aid in preventing conversion under false pretenses. But, what if this committee simply decides that is does not like you? Is that it? A Jew must leave the country, while foreign workers and their children may stay?
*TIP: Orthodox Union [OU], Young Israel, and Chabba"d rabbis are found on separate lists. Before going to the Ministry of Interior, I called the Jewish Agency to make sure that my rabbi was on the list. They clerk had checked the OU list, and thus I was told that he was not on the list. Fortunately, I thought to have her check if there was a separate list for Young Israel rabbis.
Remember, proving that one is Jewish for the purpose of getting married through the Rabbanuth is a much higher standard. Citizenship is still based, more or less, on the Nuremberg Laws, and nothing to do with halachah.
Cross-posted on Esser Agaroth.