Several years ago I publicized an article in the Yated
about various rabbinical personalities and groups who claim
that their standards meet all Orthodox requirements --
without detailing what these requirements are. At that time I
was referring among other things to the standards of
conversions performed by the IDF and to the kashrus of
certain food products.
Lately, a new "authority" has appeared in the general Jewish
media and was even subsequently mentioned in Orthodox-
sponsored publications. The authority was that of an
unidentified "beis din of the highest reputation" and
the issue involved the very delicate issue of birur
Yahadus, determining people's Jewish roots and status.
Let me further state that it had nothing to do with detecting
the personal status of the Russian immigrants, about whom it
is very clear that the vast majority of the present day
olim to Israel are not Jewish. Instead the articles
referred to heritage traces of people living in America and
who suspect that they may be Jewish, but in the meantime have
been living (and in many cases, already for several
generations) as non-Jews. Because of the strict separation of
Church and State in the US, and the generally poor quality of
older records, proving one's heritage may be more difficult
than in areas like the former Soviet bloc. Authentic
government documents are not as available in the US as they
are in other countries.
A short review of the basic facts as they appeared in the
articles, is as follows:
W.A., a 34-year-old real estate professional from St. Louis,
was brought up as a practicing member of the Methodist
church, in a conventional Protestant household. C.S.
discovered genealogical evidence about W.A., such as baptism
certificates and Civil War records, that he supposedly
presented to a top New York beis din, which then ruled
that even though W. A. was raised in a Christian home, she
need not convert to Judaism because she was actually born
Jewish. C.S., that article said, is also launching a
nonprofit organization whose purpose is to help find "lost"
When I read these articles, it immediately lit a red light
with me for three reasons. One is that on the basis of what
the article said, there was not enough halachic proof to
positively establish the status of a person who was
muchzak as a goy for many generations.
It should be noted that in general it is a very noble act to
try to determine the personal status of Americans who have
totally assimilated and to rediscover their true Jewish
origin. However, this must be done only by reliable botei
din who have expertise in the matter.
The second reason it lit a red light was: Who is this
clandestine beis din which does not identify
The third point it raised was that the article was intended
as a sensational media piece, which no responsible beis
din would allow.
I would like to note that the publication of sensational
articles in the Jewish press, often distorting halachic
issues and even misquoting well-known living rabbis, is not
new. In Igros R' Chaim Ozer (Part I, letter 21), R'
Chaim Ozer complains about newspapers that "create
sensations" and continues in that letter to blast the Warsaw-
based Togblatt for misquoting him.
We then contacted a representative of the Vaad HaRabbonim
Haolami LeInyonei Giyur in St. Louis who was familiar with
the case, and together we did further investigation, which
led to the following additional details of the case:
1) W.A. is not living a proper Orthodox Jewish lifestyle at
this time and is only in an initial Judaism program.
Therefore, at the present it would not even be possible to
make a giyur lechumra if she would turn out to need
one, since even that requires a full commitment to observing
Torah and mitzvos.
2) Furthermore, C.S., who prepared the case, is thought to
have intentions to marry W.A. and, since he is known as a
Kohen, he could not marry W.A., even if W.A. would be
willing to change her lifestyle and to undergo a giyur
lechumra. Accordingly, C.S. has an obvious personal
incentive to prove that W.A. is Jewish from birth. In any
event, C.S. did prepare a report based on very extensive
research that discovered many relevant documents.
3) W.A. and C.S. were asked to name the so-called top New
York beis din and they were not able to do so.
Furthermore, the prominent rabbis they mentioned as being
involved were contacted by us. Some of them denied any
connection to the matter, and the others confirmed that they
were presented with what the media described as a 25-page
ancestry report. However, they denied issuing any conclusive
decision and only told the parties that the report was
interesting. Despite our efforts, we have been unable to
locate any beis din that admitted to being involved in
the issue altogether.
I want to conclude by summarizing:
1) Delicate halachic issues have no place in the
media. Recently a reporter for the Jerusalem Post
contacted me to clarify the stand of Maran HaRav Eliashiv
shlita on a certain halachic issue. I refused to
answer, telling the reporter that the general media is not
the proper place to discuss halachic issues. The reporter
replied that her readers are very interested in knowing what
HaRav Eliashiv's position is on the matter in question. To
which I replied that no serious person who is interested in
knowing HaRav Eliashiv's position on any issue will credit
what he or she reads in the Jerusalem Post as a true
report of Maran's stand. Rather they will seek out a reliable
2) Any statement made in the name of a beis din or a
rabbi who are anonymous is absolutely worthless. With
reference to HaRav Chaim Ozer's complaint made above, and our
own extensive personal experience as well, sometimes even
when the statements are made in the name of a reliable
authority, they require independent authentication. I would
like to commend the Bnei Brak-based Yated Ne'eman,
which has a special committee of rabbonim whose task is to
independently verify everything quoted in the paper.
3) The general public must not fall prey to articles that
have no actual rabbinical approval. An article appearing even
in an Orthodox-sponsored publication does not give a
hechsher to the content unless it has proper
Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein is chairman of the Vaad HaRabbonim
Haolami LeInyonei Giyur, founded by the late HaRav Chaim
Kreiswirth zt"l, and the rov of Maalos Dafna in