At least 25% of registered Jewish immigrants from Russia are not Jewish - leading to the formation of a council to verify Jewishness.
Approximately one million new immigrants have arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union since 1990. Interior Ministry statistics indicate that of them, 290,000 are not Jewish.
However, Russian Aliyah experts tell a different story. Some of them say that of the million new Israelis, more than half of them - up to 550,000 - are not Jewish. This means that over a quarter-million of the 710,000 who are listed as Jews by Israel's Interior Ministry are actually not Jewish. Others say that the numbers are not that high, but that as many as 25% of those listed as Jews are actually not.
The problem has hit even the hareidi-religious communities. For instance, an outwardly-religious family living in a hareidi city for over 12 years was found to be not Jewish; when they were found out, they quickly converted to Judaism. In another case, of eight immigrants from Russia in a prestigious religious high school senior class, two were found to be not Jewish.
The source of the problem is apparently a well-oiled apparatus that forges papers on a very high-quality level, fooling rabbis both in Russia and Israel.
Based on findings such as the above, a project has been started to verify the Jewishness of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Zalman Gilechinsky, who immigrated to Israel in 1989, is the founder and head of a body known as the World Council for the Verification of Jewishness of Immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The council, which makes it checks based on documents, ancestry, and personal interviews, has the blessing of rabbis from various streams of Orthodox Judaism.
Gilechinsky, who immigrated to Israel from Kishinev, told Arutz-7, "Up until 1990, there were practically no verifications of Jewishness, not by the Jewish Agency nor Netiv [the "Russian Desk" of Israel's Foreign Ministry]. 1990 was, in fact, the year in which the most Russian Jews came to Israel - some 200,000 - so that year is therefore the most suspect. By the end of that year, they started checking... I myself came in '89, and underwent a check myself - twice - as did my wife."
Gilechinsky said that his group is consulted by many religious councils around Israel. "Though we are more stringent, in a sense, we have helped many who were rejected - or given no answer - by other bodies... We are also faster; we can come up with an answer in a week, as opposed to two months that are bodies sometimes take."
Unfortunately, Gilechinsky says, he has found that Judaism is not such an important value for some non-religious Jews: "Many mixed Israeli-Russian couples come to us, hoping to prove that the Russian side is Jewish so that they can marry here in Israel. When I ask the secular Israeli partner what he or she would do if it turns out that the Russian is not Jewish, in many cases I hear that they would marry anyway..."
In addition to maintaining order and truthfulness in the Jewish People, the council's verification work provides another benefit: "When someone who knows nothing about his Jewishness comes to us and finds that his mother was Jewish, and his mother's mother was Jewish, etc. etc., it provides a strengthening of his Jewish identity - and he comes away with a heightened sense of pride, and often, a desire to learn more about his Jewishness."