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Dispute Arises Between Civil Courts and Chief Rabbinate on Question of Who is Jew

A new dispute has arisen between Israel’s civil courts and the chief rabbinate over the determination of who is legally a Jew. A Tel Aviv district court has ruled that the circumcised son of a non-Jewish mother is a Jew on the strength of his mother’s declaration to that effect at the circumcision ceremony.

But Israel’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, Isser Untermann, protested that the question of who is a Jew is a matter of Jewish religious law which can be defined only by rabbinical courts. He insisted that under Jewish law a Jew is either one who has been born to a Jewish mother or who has been converted to Judaism.

The court however maintained that civil courts have exclusive jurisdiction over declaratory Judgments as to the religion of a person while the rabbinic courts have the right to deal with the matter only in cases of application for marriage or conversion.