October 7, 2019


Rabbinate DNA tests seek Jewishness in the blood, become a bone of contention (MARISSA NEWMAN , 10/07/'19, Times of Israel)

The two ink-smudged, Soviet-era documents were the only official proofs they had of their Jewishness. The rest was memory and ash.

In 2000, Dinara Haya Isteleou and her mother, Galiya Rozendorf, immigrants to Israel from Kazakhstan, approached a rabbinical court in the central city of Bat Yam. They came under happy circumstances: to obtain a verification of Jewishness as part of a marital license application for Isteleou's upcoming wedding, which in Israel must be overseen by the state's Orthodox authorities, the Chief Rabbinate.
They left in tears, their evidence deemed a brazen forgery. A higher rabbinical court confiscated the papers and later fined them NIS 7,000 ($2,000) as a penalty. In protest, Isteleou never paid.

"They summoned my mother, and yelled at her there, 'How dare you say you're Jewish. You aren't Jewish.' In short, they laughed at her. She left there in tears. It was a... nightmare, disappointment, and we suffered, my mother and I. We didn't know how we could prove we're Jewish. We didn't know whom to turn to," she said.

In the wake of that devastating hearing, the bride-to-be and her mother, who had immigrated to Israel five years earlier, joined some 400,000 Israelis, primarily from the former Soviet Union and their descendants, whose Jewishness remains officially unrecognized or cast in doubt, a product of the parallel civil and rabbinical legal systems of the country. [...]

The introduction of two kinds of genetic testing in state rabbinical courts over the past few years -- one that seeks Ashkenazi Jewish markers through mitochondrial DNA by comparing it to databases, and one to confirm a family tie  -- flew under the radar at first, but erupted into a massive uproar in March when several cases hit the headlines.

The testing has been pilloried by activists representing immigrants, by scientists, and by politicians as a chilling, pseudoscientific development more suited to eugenics-crazy Nazi Germany than the Jewish state, and that dangerously risks turning Jewishness into a racial, rather than religious or national, identity.

Posted by at October 7, 2019 12:00 AM


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