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May 19, 2015

beis din uses "Jewish appearance" to decide someone's Jewishness

The other day we learned of a case in which the Rabbanut discovered a marriage candidate was not actually Jewish as the conversion of her mother many years prior had been performed by an unauthorized beis din. As a result, 50 family members had to convert immediately.

The part of the story that was made public left a lot of unanswered questions, but that's the story as we know it.

And today we have another interesting conversion story. The beis din in Yerushalayim had to evaluate the Jewish status of a middle-aged woman who made aliya from the Russian states (the article says "Soviet Union, which no longer actually exists, so I am not sure where she made aliya from). She made aliya with her husband and two children.

This woman's original birth certificate has her parents marked as Jews, but when she left Russia they replaced her original with a different document in which it says nothing under her nationality and religion , and only calls her Russian. Upon investigation, it was discovered her father is Jewish and her mother is "Chernogorit" from Montenegro.

She explained that her mother was Jewish but when she had tried to get accepted into medical school, because she would not get in as a Jew with two Jewish parents, she obtained a copy of the document that calls her Russian rather than jewish and states where her mother was from rather than that she was Jewish.

The woman brought pictures of her and her family from her youth, which the beis din used to come to a decision. They decided based on her Jewish appearance in the pictures that she must have been Jewish, as her Jewish father could ot have possibly intermarried back then with a "chornegorit".

The beis din, based on her "Jewish appearance" declared her and her brother Jewish.
source: Kipa

So, the beis din won't accept the conversion of another beis din, but they will accept as Jewish someone based on some vague and undefined "Jewish appearance". I really would like to understand better how these batei din come to their decisions in these cases...

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