Ephraim HaLevy, former chief of the Mossad, has committed himself to a program which will help certify the Jewish identities of thousands of immigrants, primarily from the former Soviet Union, who need certifications that they are Jewish in order to marry under official Israeli law. The announcement came at the annual meeting of the Shorashim (Roots) program, an initiative of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization. HaLevy was officially announced as the program’s Incoming chairman. Shorashim is backed by the Harry Triguboff Foundation based in Sydney, Australia, together with the Friedberg Charitable Foundation of Toronto, Canada and with funding from the government of Israel. The program operates out of offices in Moscow and Kiev, and the first center in Israel to assist couples with the identification process was opened last week in the presence of Triguboff.
Prof. Ze’ev Khanin, Chief Scientist of Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, told the meeting that since the fall of the Soviet Union, more than one million people have immigrated to Israel. Accounting for natural demographic patterns compounded with a certain percentage of people who chose to leave Israel of their own initiative, approximately 975,000 people living in Israel today describe themselves as of Russian origin.
“For years we were imploring these Jews to come home to Israel and now we’re going to reject them because they can’t easily prove their Jewish ancestry?” HaLevy asked. “There is an answer and that is what this program offers, but if we don’t commit ourselves to it then we’ll go down as the biggest traitors in Jewish history.”
The process often involves sending emissaries into archives and cemeteries in tiny Russian and Ukrainian villages to obtain the levels of proof necessary to determine that an immigrant to Israel is of certain Jewish ancestry. Once procured, the documentation is then presented to Israeli rabbinical courts before an individual’s proof of Judaism can be confirmed.
Rabbi David Stav, the founder and president of Tzohar and also the national religious candidate for the position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, told the meeting, “We can’t even begin to comprehend the value of what is being done here and this is truly a historic effort.”
Couples not afforded the assistance offered by Shorashim often will enter marriage without halachic approval, a situation which effectively would define their children as non-Jews under Israeli law. Those who are determined not to be of Jewish descent are provided with support to convert under rabbinic guidance.