Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 1 August 2010

But Is It The Whole Story

(Hat tip: Failed Messiah)
There is a story going around the blogosphere about a young Jewish American woman who recently moved to Israel, attempted to get married and was apparently told by the Rabbanut official assigned to her to either produce four generations worth of kesubos or forget about getting married in Israel.  As the original story in Haaretz notes:
But after filing for a wedding license and being told she needed to prove the Jewishness of her maternal lineage for four generations, she is wondering whether she made the right decision in immigrating to a Jewish state that doubts her Jewishness.
"I'm furious with this country right now," the 29-year-old international relations student told Anglo File this week. "I'm the great-great-niece of a prominent Zionist and I am always a supporter of this country, but this really frustrated me and I can totally understand why a lot of my Anglo friends left this country."
Rubin, who was raised in a Conservative household, produced letters from four Conservative rabbis and one Chabad rabbi attesting to her Jewishness. But the Herzliya Rabbinate said the letters were not enough and asked her to bring ketubot, or religious wedding contracts, as well as birth or death certificates of her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother.
"It was made very clear that without ketubot and without birth certificates from four generations, I would need to go to the Beit Din [local rabbinical court]," Rubin told Anglo File this week. "I told him, time and time again, that my grandparents are Shoah survivors [and thus their ketubot no longer exist] and I was told that wasn't his problem."
Naturally there is outrage everywhere.  The venerable Brooklyn Wolf has dedicated two posts filled with much bitterness towards this issue.  And it's no wonder why.  Hillary Rubin, the young lady in question, isn't just another unknown person showing up on Israel's shores and demanding to be recognized as a Jew.  She has yichus.  First, there's her great-grandfather, Nachum Sokolov, an important early Zionist who did much important work to help establish the State.  But not only that, her grandparents are Holocaust survivors.  Who could ask for more?
Now, I do not wish to give the impression that I am mocking Ms. Rubin.  I am certainly not questioning her Jewishness, chas v'shalom.. If what she says is correct then she has been treated poorly and illegally according to halacha.  More on that later.  However, I have little patience for those who bandy about things like the Holocaust to confirm their Jewishness.  How many Jews converted out after the war because of despair?  How many intermarried in the hopes of disappearing from history?  More than that, how many non-Jews suffered in Hitler's camps?  How is surviving the Holocaust proof of one's Jewishness?
Furthermore, the descent from Nachum Sokolow, while impressive, is again no proof.  Thoedore Herzl's son Hans also converted out.   Even Gwyneth Paltrow can claim descent from great rabbonim.  There's no exclusivity in this club.
There is, however, a greater issue at play here.  None of us out here in the cyberether were in the room with Ms Rubin and the unnamed rabbi who questioned her Jewishness.  We do not know what transpired, what words were exchanged or what led this official to make his outrageous-sounding demand.  All we known is what Haaretz told us about it.
Why is that siginificant?  Remember that Haaretz is, to put it mildly, not a paper that sees religious Jews in a positive light.  It's also a paper whose editorial staff have made it clear that they put politics before truth in reporting.  We don't trust the media where it comes to reporting on Israel in general but suddenly Haaretz is a beacon of truth regarding the religious community?  Please.
There is too much about this story that does not make sense.  Although I am not an expert on the laws of marriage (the only one I really know is that I must say "Yes dear, you're right" on a frequent basis) I am reasonably sure that there is no requirement to present multiple generations of kesubos to a rabbi before getting married.  I can't even imagine what the kesubos have to do with anything.  Regardless of whom she married, the person's mother's Jewishness is all that matters to determine whether or not the person is a member of the tribe.  I can understand being asked to prove that one's mother is Jewish and not a Reformative convert but not more than that.
Clearly there are either details that are missing or that have been distorted.  Until we know them all it behooves us not to fall into Haaretz's manipulations and jump to rash conclusions.


SJ said...

Sup Garnel, I'm troubled by JP's latest post in his blog in which he says that Jews who aren't orthodox should stop calling themselves Jewish. It's one thing to 'oversimplify halacha' but this JP's post seems to me to be way out there completely ahistorical abiblical and unhalachic.

And it's like saying that if a Jew isn't orthodox, he shouldn't praise God; which to me is borderline heresy, Isaiah 56:7 God's house is a house for all peoples.

Rafi G. said...

in general your point is correct that just because one's distant relative or great grandparent was jewish does not mean you are.

Howeve, I would like to point out that "converting out" does not take away one's jewishness. As a matter of fact, in halacha there is no such concept. the only thing it does is make you a rasha. You are still a Jew though and your marriage is halachically valid marriage and your children are jews.

The ONLY thing that will stop your future children from being jewish is if you marry a non-Jewish woman and she is their mother.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Agreed. The big difference though, as you alluded to, is between men and women. A woman who converts out remains Jewish and so do her children. A man, however, would generally marry out so his child would be the non-Jew he wishes he was and therefore his line is lost to the Jewish people.

E-Man said...

Interesting post I wrote about this article quoting the various Gemoras about this subject about mothers being Jewish and their babies being Jewish:

Bartley Kulp said...

This story again!!

It's on all the blogs!!!! Aaaahhh!!!Aaaahhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hillary said...

Hi, I am the young woman in question. I am trying to clear the air about a few things.

1) I am a Jew. My maternal grandmother was in Auschwitz and did not convert to Judaism OR from Judaism. No such thing has happened in my family. She came from a religious family - as did my maternal grandfather (not that anyone cares).

2) I am the great-great-niece of Nachum Sokolow, not his great-granddaughter. He was my paternal grandfather's uncle. This doesn't matter in my lineage but the paper thought it would gain more attention - which it clearly has.

3) I love being Jewish. I may be an observant Conservative Jew but it's the only religion I've ever known. Until now, I never knew Judaism or Jews in general to be so harsh and unwelcoming.

4) I'm not anti-religious or anti-Charadi. I have quite a few family members who are religious and Charadi and I do not hate them or despise them. They are my family and fellow Jews. Hashem taught us to love one another - not be spiteful and full of hate.

5) I love the State of Israel - with all my heart. I do not like the practices of the Rabbanut but I appreciate their role in keeping the land of Israel Jewish.

6) The way I was treated in the Rabbanut is above and beyond disgraceful and disgusting... and it wasn't just me - my fiance (who was raised Orthodox) was also told to go to the Beit Din because they weren't sure he was Jewish either.

Finally, at the end of the day - most things are about politics and power. We were caught in the middle. This was just our story. Follow one of my blogs and you can follow the rest of the story.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Hillary, thank you for taking the time to comment. I think it's important that people hear from you directly instead of through Haaretz's filter.
So I have some questions:
1) According to my sources, asking for a person's parents' kesubah is irrelevant to determining whether a person is Jewish, never mind asking for 4 generations. So if the rav at the Rabbnut asked for this, how did he justify his demand?
2) I'm curious as to how the problem came up in the first place. Was it something as stupid as you saying "hi" and him saying "I don't know you, prove you're Jewish!"?
3) What does your Chabad rav say about this issue?
I look forward to hearing from you.

David said...

So your position here is that, since Ha'aretz reported it, it must not be true? I'll grant you Ha'aretz' bias on the issue, but, in light of recent (well-established) stories, I'm not sure why you'd find it difficult to believe this particular story, regardless of who reported it.

Oh-- I've been researching your geneaology in my spare time. I've got good news and bad news-- the good news is that you're descended from King Solomon! The bad news is that you're descended from him through one of his many wives and she never really converted, so you're not Jewish.

Garnel Ironheart said...

David, I don't trust Haaretz to report "frum" news just like I don't trust CNN to report Israeli news.
Fortunately Ms Rubin is going around to the blogs that have picked up on the story as you can see above. Hopefully she can directly answer the questions.

Bartley Kulp said...

I will continue to espouse the removal of the status quo laws in order to facilitate civil marriage.

Anonymous said...

a story from 1983, beersheva.

our landlord, an oleh like us, went to the rabbanut to arrange his marriage.

he brought a childhood friend who had studied in talmud torah with him to vouch for his jewishness.

somehow the pakid understood that the talmud torah was conservative - so the childhood friend's testimony did not count.

"but he is the only person in all of israel who knows me and my family" our landlord said.

the pakid (how can I call such a person a rav?) instructed him to find a random israeli on the street outside and bring him in to give false witness as to his family background.

so how in the world can people discuss this case as if the real issue is "who is a jew" and not "why are jews so corrupt?"?

Hillary said...

While I said on my blog that I would not answer your questions - I will do it because they are decent questions that do not ask me why we didn't pay off the Rabbanut (which you did on my blog).

1) According to my sources, asking for a person's parents' kesubah is irrelevant to determining whether a person is Jewish, never mind asking for 4 generations. So if the rav at the Rabbnut asked for this, how did he justify his demand?
He did not justify his demand. You are required to bring your parents Ketubah with you. Some people are asked to provide 2-3 generations worth of those types of documents. In fact, he did not even need my parents Ketubah as he had their get (in Hebrew)- which is halachically valid. It was an either or type of situation. Either provide the 4 generations of Ketubot/Birth/Death Certificates or go to the Beit Din. He questioned my Judaism because I had letters from the Chabad movement and the Conservative movement. The Rabbi was also uneducated and upset that in our previous meeting, another Rabbi demanded the letter from an Orthodox Rabbi (which went over this guys head). He remembered us and it seemed like a power play until he told me that even if I went to the Beit Din, I would likely be told I am not a Jew (since I was raised Conservative). His main issued seemed to be that I was raised Masorti. I don't know what his deal was with my fiance since he was raised Orthodox and had a stamp from the Beit Din in South Africa. He asked BOTH of us to go to the Beit Din to verify our Judaism.
2) I'm curious as to how the problem came up in the first place. Was it something as stupid as you saying "hi" and him saying "I don't know you, prove you're Jewish!"?
The first time we went, I was told to get a letter from an Orthodox Rabbi in Detroit who knows me. This was a test to see if I could actually provide this document. I was told I would not need to go to the Beit Din if I had this. They lied. I received the letter and they still wanted me to go to the Beit Din. On our second meeting, they just did not believe that I was Jewish. They refused to even call my Orthodox Rabbi in Detroit. He called them a few times to clear up the situation and nothing was ever resolved.
3) What does your Chabad rav say about this issue? My Chabad Rav is amazing! He is such a sweet soul! He really tried hard to get the Rabbanut to comply with their original demands and after much digging, it came out that they did not respect Chabad Rabbis since they seem to let anyone in. He was INFURIATED! He's written many letters for couples he knows who want to be married in the Holy Land and has never had one rejected until now. I've never heard such a sweet man be so aggravated. In the end, I believe he respects our decision. You asked me why I didn't bribe the Rabbanut to get what I wanted, I'd like to add that people like my Chabad Rav deserve the donation much more than the Rabbanut. He is a truly good soul who accepts people for who they are. He met my mother and did not question her Judaism. He called my grandmother and did not question her Judaism. If you'd like to contact her, I'm sure she'd be glad to speak to you. I've never had my Judaism questioned... until now.

There are many facets of this story and I will say it again that I whole heartedly appreciate what the Rabbanut does but I do not appreciate their means of doing it and determining who is and who is not a Jew.

ProfK said...

This case is disturbing on its own merits but also because of something else it raises. If the rabbanut can require birth certificates and/or kesubot going back 4 generations there are an awful lot of people born into orthodox families, raised orthodox, schooled in orthodox yeshivot who would be unable to "prove" their Jewishness. My children would only be able to go back one generation to me--their grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust and have no papers of the kind requested. My parents certainly have no such papers for their parents and grandparents. And what would happen if the rabbanut did not cotton to the rabbi of our shul who could identify us as Jewish because he was a YI rabbi?

There has to be a better way.

Bartley Kulp said...

I am actually registered as a ger with the rabbinate. I am Jewish on both sides though. My maternal grandmother's first language was Yiddish. She was born in London England around 1890 while her family was in transit from the Ukraine. Proving it would be another story. I had no documentation and I did not know any rabbi states side that knew my mothers family whether Orthodox, Reform or Conservative for that matter.

I was then requested to get a copy of my mother's birth certificate. Easy enough. My grandmothers birth certificate. With that I might as well go hunting for the Templer's treasure. Photographs of both my mother's and grandmothers gravestones. They are buried over a thousand miles from each other.

Rather than go through that horror I requested to do a gyur l'chumra. My request was granted.

So y'all can call a ger. You can call me Yisrael. Just don't call me late for dinner.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Garnel, This is a really stupid comment:

A man, however, would generally marry out so his child would be the non-Jew he wishes he was and therefore his line is lost to the Jewish people.

You're usually smarter than this. Now you're claiming to know the mind and motivations of every Jewish man who marries out?

Why waste your time blogging when you could be out using your amazing powers of telepathy to fight crime?

Garnel Ironheart said...

Friar, it's been ages! Where have you been?

And how do you know I'm not using my power of telepathy to fight crime? How do you think FailedMessiah clued into the Rubashkin problem in the first place? 8-)