Monday morning, before going off to shul, I read an article in the Jerusalem Post (not yet online) that recounted the story of a young man from Pennsylvania who wanted to get married here in Israel. His mother was Jewish, so there should not have been any problem. He was wrong. The Rabbinate's rules are that only someone married in Israel, or whose parents were married by an Orthodox rabbi whose name appears on their approved list, is automatically certified as being Jewish. This young man did not fit into either category and his file was sent for investigation to a special office of the Haifa rabbinate. He was required to find photos of his grandparents' graves and copies of their immigration papers, ship manifests of their arrival in the United States and other supporting documents. With the help of Rabbi Seth Farber and the ITIM institute, the task was achieved and our young man was married (barely) on time.
Then it struck me, that had I wanted to get married in Israel I would have been in the same position, or perhaps in a worse position. My parents (ז"ל) were married in Boston by a Conservative rabbi in 1954. So, my file would have automatically been sent for investigation. So I'd have needed to collect documents. Gravestones I have, check. The problem is that my maternal grandparents entered the United States under separate last names, because my grandmother wasn't well. She came under her maiden name, Littwak (אלא מה?), and he came under Czertok. At Ellis Island, he changed his family name to Birnbaum, because Czertok means the 'devil' (and he was less than fond of his father, anyway). So, I would have to stand in front of a bunch of rabbinic inquisitors and make the case that they were both Jewish, and my mother's parents. (Never mind that my Bubbe ע"ה was the embodiment of the nice, little (she was 4' 11") Jewish lady).
Contemplating this possibility, and knowing how officious and mean spirited many of the denizens of the Rabbinate can be, I felt vicariously degraded. A wave of empathy for all those forced to legitimize themselves as Jews before the apparatchiks of the Rabbinate washed over me. Even granting that certification is sometimes required (as with the former Soviet Union), still stories like that reported in the Post (the like of which occur every single day) are unnecessary and insensitive sources of pain, anguish and Hillul Ha-Shem. Jewish Law provides very clear guidelines for establishing identity (such as testimony by witnesses). Relying on the extraordinarily stringent rulings of a noted Hungarian מחמיר like R. Menashe Klein is simply unacceptable for a governmental agency charged with representing the mainstream view of the Torah.
There has to be a better way.