Jews from the former Soviet Union are being required to pass a DNA test in order to prove their ethnicity. According to ITIM, an institute assisting Jews with religious services, over the past year, 20 couples have come to them asking for help with a demand from the Rabbinical Court for a DNA test as a condition for registering marriages.
“The Rabbinical Court demand to carry out a DNA test to prove Jewish heritage is discrimination against immigrants from the former Soviet Union," says ITIM founder Rabbi Dr. Seth Farber, who threatens to petition Israel's Supreme Court in the case.
Attorney Elad Kaplan, director of ITIM, said that a couple who was in the process of marriage came to him after the Rabbinical Court claimed that they suspected that the mother of one of the spouses was not Jewish, and demanded a DNA test. “In another case, the rabbis decided to examine the Jewishness of a couple who were legally married by the Rabbinate, and when they filed for divorce after a few years, the court demanded a DNA test,” Kaplan says.
“This is discrimination against immigrants from the former Soviet Union,” Rabbi Farber told the Hebrew website Ynet. Some 5,000 immigrants were asked to prove their Jewishness in recent years, Farber said.
The Jerusalem Post reported in 2017 on a rabbinic ruling permitting a genetic test to be used as proof of Jewish descent for certain Ashkenazi Jews. Rabbi Yosef Carmel, co-head of the Eretz Hemdah Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies, wanted to prove that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from just four Jewish women who left the Middle East more than 1,000 years ago and settled in Europe. According to the scientific report commissioned by Eretz Hemdah for its ruling, there is a certainty of at least 90% and up to 99% that someone bearing specific genetic markers in their mitochondrial DNA is descended from one of these women. This study and many like it have sparked contentious debate within the scientific community, the report noted.
Farber previously expressed his concerns that using scientific means to determine Jewishness could lead rabbinical judges to reject less-precise, but totally valid tools in Jewish law to establish someone’s Jewish status.
“In recent months, studies have been published clarifying that the examination is not unequivocal,” Farber explains in the report. “In addition, these rabbis are contemptuous of Halakha – for there are Halakhic tools for solving these problems. I do not understand why the rabbinical courts are suddenly ready to throw the Halakha into the garbage and rely on science. Finally, it is clear that if we use the DNA test, we will create a split in the Jewish people.”
Avigdor Liberman weighed in, stating, “This is an outrageous discrimination and racist. No immigrant from another country was asked to do similar tests.” Liberman is the Soviet-born former Minister of Defense.