In the context of Jewish Identity Day, marked today in the Knesset, the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee discussed the difficulties of verifying a person`s Judaism according to the Internal Ministry`s criteria.

Shalom Norman from the ”Shorashim” center, which assists Russian immigrants in proving their Jewish identity, said that it is very difficult to corroborate the authenticity of documents from the former USSR. Documents which arrived after 1989 are not considered credible, from whence stem many immigrants` difficulty in proving their Judaism. One of the options for proving Jewish identity is to bring a witness; however, the generation in question is passing away. Furthermore, the Russian Jewish community contains many cases of assimilation. Many of the newest arrivals came from regions where, in order to survive, Jews had to abandon their roots. For this reason it is difficult to find archival material.

Eliyahu Maimon, Director of the Jewish Courts for Conversion in the Chief Rabbinate, said that time is running out, and actions must be taken in order that more people will verify their Jewish identity, and do so not only in the context of marriage. The topic should be presented and explained in high schools and in the army. There is a need for providing better connections with liaison offices and representatives abroad in this matter.

Hizkiyahu Samin of the Ministry for Religious Affairs noted the importance of explaining to every immigrant who arrives in Israel under the Right of Return that their rights under the latter do not act as proof of Judaism. Immigrants must be informed of this when they arrive. Samin suggested establishing special religious courts for verifying individuals` Judaism, and not do so in the framework of the Chief Rabbinate.

Galit Kariv, from The Organization for Progressive Judaism claimed the problems stem from the severe policies of the institution in Israel and strict agenda domination by the Chief Rabbinate. According to Kariv, more lenient channels of conversion should be opened, and civil marriages allowed.

In summary of the meeting, Committee Chairman and MK Amnon Cohen said he would turn to the Prime Minister`s Office to discuss quick and clear verification of new immigrants` Jewish identity, as well as allocating funds and requesting intensive work on the matter for three months. Or, he suggests, special religious courts to verify Judaism could be established to work in an ad-hoc fashion for three years; this, in the spirit of a 1997 government decision which dealt with the personal status of immigrants from the former USSR.