To Be or Not To Be… Jewish

posted on august 21, 2011

Surprise! There is more confusion and contradiction over what exactly it means to be Jewish in the Holy Land, this time involving the Interior Ministry. The Israeli paper Ha’aretz published an article on July 20 on a woman whose plans to immigrate to Israel as a Jew were subverted by the Interior Ministry, the government body in charge of citizenship. The Interior Ministry does not recognize a person as a Jew if they don’t enter the country as a Jew, even if the person is declared Jewish by an Israeli rabbinical court.

This brings up the interesting conundrum that a person can be considered to be Jewish by traditional Jewish law and yet not Jewish by the State of Israel. In the case of Yehudit Weizman, a mother of three children, it’s all the more troubling.  Weizman has had a Jewish upbringing and life, from her Jewish childhood in Hungary to her traditional Jewish wedding to an Israeli – until her desire to immigrate to Israel stopped her in her tracks. The problem stems back to her grandmother’s decision to convert to Christianity during World War II. This decision renders Weizman a person with the status of “no religion,” according to the Interior Ministry. In order to achieve citizenship as a Jew, she has been told, she has to convert.

Tzohar, the Orthodox organization viewed in many circles as an alternative to the more stringent Israeli Chief Rabbinate when it comes to issues of establishing and smoothing issues of Jewish identity, is putting forth a bill to help with the thousands of cases of “clarification of Judaism,” that, like in the case of Ms. Weizman, prevent people who identify as Jews – and even have rabbinical support and proof of their identity – from receiving Jewish validation. On a technical level, the bill aims to expand the size and power of religious courts declaring people as Jewish, so that even if the Interior Ministry doesn’t agree, the religious court’s ruling might be able to stand independent.

What will happen to these Jews requiring “clarification of their Judaism?”  How will the bill put forth by Tzohar fare in the Knesset? When will Yehudit Weizman finally be recognized by her home country as the Jew she has been her whole life? Only time will tell. The question of what forms Jewish identity, and what it means to be “a Jew” is still one as pertinent as ever.

written by elie lichtschein