Israeli rabbinical courts are regularly using DNA tests to test the claims of Jewish racial descent by would-be immigrants in Israel, confirming that Jews are in a fact a biological race, a new report in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper has confirmed.
News of the use of DNA tests has been known as far back as July 2013, when an official statement from the Israeli Prime Minister’s office in Tel Aviv, said that the Jewish government was about to introduce DNA testing to ensure that no non-Jews from Russia enter the country.
The new admission in Haaretz is however the first confirmation that the policy is actively being implemented, and is being used to prevent those who cannot prove that they are biologically descended from Jewish mothers, from marrying pure Jews.
According to the new report, in “cases where the Jewishness of individuals seeking to marry is in doubt,” individuals are being asked to “undergo genetic testing” to confirm their Jewishness.
Haaretz—traditionally regarded on the “left” of the Jewish political spectrum, quoted Elad Caplan, the director of the advocacy center at ITIM, “an organization that assists immigrants challenged by Israel’s religious bureaucracy” as saying that it “is really terrifying thinking where this could lead . . . Judaism is about belonging and community – it’s not about race and blood, as our worst enemies have claimed.”
According to Haaretz, a Jewish bride and groom must marry through the Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate’s office if they wish to be recognized as married in Israel.
All couples seeking to marry through the Rabbinate must first register at one of its local offices. These offices will typically refer individuals to the rabbinical courts if no certification exists that the mother of the bride or groom was married through the Rabbinate (or by a rabbi approved by the Rabbinate if they are from overseas).
Likewise, couples will be referred to the rabbinical court if suspicions have been raised about the authenticity of the documentation they presented.
In some cases, individuals have been asked to provide DNA proof that their mother was, in fact, their biological mother. This is because Jewish religious law, or halakha, defines a Jew as the child of a Jewish mother. In other cases, individuals have been asked to provide DNA test results that show they are of Jewish-Ashkenazi descent.
Mitochondrial DNA is inherited exclusively from a person’s mother, so genetic markers can be traced back many generations to determine a person’s maternal ancestors with a high degree of certainty.
A 2006 study showed that 40 percent of all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from just four Jewish women who lived more than 1,000 years ago. That study concluded that if someone bears specific mitochondrial DNA markers, there is a 90 to 99 percent chance he or she is descended from one of those women.
Within the Orthodox movement, there has been a push in recent years to get the Rabbinate to recognize DNA test results as a legitimate way of establishing whether an individual is Jewish according to halakha.
A driving force in the campaign to get the Rabbinate to use DNA testing more widely is Eretz Hemdah, a Jerusalem-based institute that trains rabbinical judges. Several halakhic opinions on the matter have been published by the well-respected institution in recent years.
Asked to comment, a spokesman for the Rabbinate referred Haaretz to the spokesman of the rabbinical courts. The spokesman of the rabbinical courts said: “We are not commenting.”
The reality that Jews are a race and not a religion is a fact which is well-known to all honest geneticists. Most recently, research carried out by the Eretz Hemdah Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies in Jerusalem revealed the existence of a “Jewish gene” which, it said, “can help prove one’s Jewishness” in line with Jewish religious law.
The Israeli Ynet news enthusiastically told its Jewish readers that the “breakthrough study by Israeli experts on genetics and Jewish Halacha (the religious law) claim that the so-called ‘Jewish gene,’ can be identified by ‘using a sample of saliva, and can save a long and complicated conversion process.’”
Rabbi Dov Popper, an adviser at the Puah Institute, added that researchers in Israel and the world have been studying mitochondrial DNA—structures within the cells— which a person receives only from his or her mother.
“We can find the gene with a simple blood or saliva test. As soon as you find the mitochondrial gene in a person, this serves as a considerable piece of evidence in proving his Jewish roots,” Rabbi Popper said.
Israel’s rabbinate in session: Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, second from left; Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, third from left; and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau at a special meeting of the Israeli Rabbinate Council.