Israel’s rabbinate has been performing genetic testing on Israelis from the former Soviet Union, to check if they are “genetically Jewish” as a condition for marriage registration, an investigation by Ynet has revealed.
At least 20 couples have come forward after having been asked to undergo the procedure in the past year, according to a report published two weeks ago by the ITIM institute, which helps those having difficulty with “religious authorities’ bureaucracy in Israel.”
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Although the existence of such tests was initially denied by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau admitted to having requested that some couples prove their Jewish status. Lau claimed those were isolated incidents and there was no coercion. The testimonies of the couples obtained by Ynet, however, reveal that the complicated procedure was undertaken not only by the couples themselves but also by their relatives.
In one instance, a young woman who went to the rabbinate before her wedding was asked to conduct a DNA test along with her mother and her aunt, in order to eliminate the possibility that her mother was adopted. The rabbinate apparently insisted on genetic testing partly because there was a significant delay in issuing a birth certificate for the woman’s mother. The young woman was told that if she refused the request, her marriage application would be denied. The rabbinate has control over Jewish religious rites in Israel.
Another incident saw a man being put on a “delayed marriage” list after he withdrew his consent to conduct a DNA test, which the rabbinate had required due to what it said was inaccuracies in the documents proving his grandmother’s Jewishness.
In a similar case, a young woman who’d been asked to prove her Jewish status, was requested by the rabbinical court to have both her and her mother undergo a DNA test that would include “the mitochondrial genome test,” in order to “ensure that the applicant is indeed her mother’s biological offspring.” They were instructed to carry out the test at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, and any attempt to find an alternative location to conduct the test—due to the ill mother’s inability to physically get to the hospital—had been refuted.
According to the evidence accumulated by Ynet, these instances are examples of what appears to be a growing phenomenon where those applying to register for marriage, are being asked to undergo genetic testing if they want to have their requests granted.
Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who on several occasions has accused the ultra-Orthodox establishment of discriminating against FSU immigrants, called the tests as “blatant racism and discrimination,” and urged Lau to “resign immediately.”
“Unfortunately, there are immigrants who, despite their eligibility under the Law of Return, are not defined as Jews according to Halacha,” said Lau in response, referring to the Israeli law that allowed anyone with a Jewish grandparent to live in Israel. “In a few cases, there are those who claim to be Jews, but don’t possess the necessary documents to confirm it … or we find contradictions between their statements and what we would uncover about them.”
“In these cases, we suggest undergoing DNA tests that would strengthen their claims,” he said. “It’s never forced upon anyone and only used to assist applicants in the research process.”