One of the most significant religious issues the Jewish world currently faces is that of the verification of Jewish Status. Back in the shtetl, a person’s identity and lineage were widely known, there were few questions (if any). However, in the years following the Holocaust, when communities were both decimated and dispersed, it became increasingly difficult to be able to verify one’s Jewish identity.
General assimilation, combined with persecutions suffered at the hands of oppressing forces only aggravated this situation. In light of this, it has become apparent that along the way mistakes were made, some easily corrected some more complex – often to the great anguish of families involved.
Indeed, one of the most contentious issues facing Israeli society is that of the Jewish identity of the olim who have come from the former USSR. Here in Australia, there have also been difficult cases presented to the Sydney Beth Din. People who have perceived themselves to be Jewish have been found not to be Jewish. Conversely, people who have thought of themselves as not Jewish have been found to be Jewish. Furthermore, considerable expertise is required to be able to ascertain the validity of documents presented. Finely tuned halachic and practical expertise is needed to assist people who, for whatever reason, have no documentation at all. Indeed, assisting and finding solutions in difficult cases is one of the most important aspects of Beth Din involvement.
The organised Jewish communities around the world that have Batei Din have risen to the challenge. After all, given that correctly identifying who is or is not a Jew is fundamental to the survival of the Jewish People, the various Batei Din around the world, starting with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and including the London Beth Din; Manchester Beth Din and the Johannesburg Beth Din, are all committed to ensuring the correct determination of Jewish status. Prior to marriage, a couple must apply to their local Beth Din and only once their Jewish status has been verified, will their chosen Rabbi be permitted to perform the marriage. Once a marriage is approved and the ceremony performed, Jewish status and the marriage itself is registered with the Beth Din.
Unfortunately over the years, The Sydney Beth Din has found mistakes made by well meaning persons not only in matters of Jewish status, but in other areas of Jewish law, such as the need for obtaining a Gett. Had many of these matters been before the Beth Din earlier, solutions may have been found and much heartache avoided. It is important to recognise that If there are problems, the Beth Din has the knowledge and authority to find solutions. Registration with a Beth Din recognised by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel removes all doubt and enables people to know with confidence that wherever they or their children go in the world, and especially in Israel, their Jewishness, marriages and divorces will be recognised.
During his tenure as Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Amar actively engaged Batei Din around the world to centralize and organize the correct determination of Jewish status. He also turned to the Sydney Beth Din.
While the Sydney Beth Din, comprising of Rabbi Moshe D Gutnick, Rabbi David Rogut and Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, had in the past dealt primarily with problematic cases, the Rabbanut requested of it to implement a system where the approval for all marriages should be via the Beth Din, thereby ensuring best practice and certainty.
The strong ongoing relationship between the Sydney Beth Din and the Rabbanut creates the transparency and accountability necessary to give confidence and credence to such a system. The Chief Rabbinate has stated that it will no longer recognize documents issued in relation to matters of Jewish status or marriage by individuals, they must be issued or endorsed by the Sydney Beth Din.
In June of this year, Rabbi Amar Shlita personally honored the Sydney Beth Din with a visit to Sydney to assist and review various Beth Din matters and to formally launch this central authorisation of marriages. Rabbi Amar reiterated his unqualified support for the Sydney Beth Din and its halachic processes and emphasized that only through the Sydney Beth Din would issues of status now be recognized in Israel.
Henceforth, when a prospective couple approach their chosen Rabbi to perform a marriage, the Rabbi will give the couple the appropriate guidance and paperwork and will be a conduit between the couple and the Beth Din. Additionally, the Beth Din can always be contacted directly on [email protected]
With this service now in place, members of the Jewish community can be both confident and certain that their religious documents will be recognized and accepted around the world. While the Sydney community is the first in Australia to have this authorisation process up and running, at the recent meeting of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, a motion was passed requesting that this process be extended Australia-wide. Work is currently being undertaken in Melbourne under the aegis of the Melbourne Beth Din for a similar system to be implemented.