In an unprecedented move, Israel’s High Court on Sunday gave the Chief Rabbinate sixty days to respond to a petition challenging its investigations of people claiming to be Jewish independent of any filing for marriage or divorce.
The Rabbinate has undertaken such investigations in recent years due to the influx of very large numbers of people, particularly from Russia, who Jewish identity was considered doubtful. A widespread traffic in false identification papers enabled many immigrants to pose as Jews in order to take advantage of the benefits offered by the Law of Return and some of whom later sought to marry into the Jewish community.
It would inform people that were the subject of an investigations, and if they agreed to go along with it, would conduct them in full. If they refused, they would be added to its database of relatives whose Jewish status was in doubt. Once on the database, they would not be able to register to marry, or conduct any statutory process through the Chief Rabbinate.
In addition, the Interior Ministry has relied on the database for determining Jewish status regarding registration as Jewish in the state population registry.
Attorney Elad Caplan of the ITIM organization, one of the NGOs that petitioned the Court, said the rabbinical courts are “compiling lists and databases about citizens without their consent,” and called on the Court to intervene.
“Where does the [rabbinical] court get the authority to examine the Judaism of a person who has not applied for a state marriage license or a divorce?” asked High Court
Court President Esther Hayut said during the court hearings on the case that “if there is doubt about an individual’s Jewish identity when he or she applies for a marriage license, the [rabbinical] court should ascertain his or her mother’s name, and conduct an investigation of the mother only.”