Maoz looks to involve Rabbinate in determining Jewishness of would-be immigrants

As head of Nativ, which checks citizenship eligibility in FSU, far-right lawmaker seems to be trying to make process harder so as to keep out those who are not halachically Jewish

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Deputy Minister Avi Maoz, right, meets with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, center-left, in the latter's office in Jerusalem on January 11, 2023. (Avi Maoz's Office)
Deputy Minister Avi Maoz, right, meets with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, center-left, in the latter's office in Jerusalem on January 11, 2023. (Avi Maoz's Office)

Deputy Minister Avi Maoz said he plans to involve the Chief Rabbinate in determining the Jewishness of people from the former Soviet Union applying for Israeli citizenship, a move that would likely make the process more difficult for applicants.

A deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Maoz oversees Nativ, a government organization that is responsible for determining the eligibility of potential immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Maoz, who fiercely opposes immigration to Israel by people who are not halachically Jewish — that is, Jewish according to the Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law — announced his intention following a meeting Wednesday with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau.

The incoming government — specifically the religious parties making up half the coalition, including Maoz’s ultranationalist Noam party — has set its sights on Israel’s immigration policies, under the belief that too many people who are not halachically Jewish are obtaining Israeli citizenship. Though new legislation would have to be passed to restrict immigration, in his capacity as head of the Nativ organization, Maoz can in theory impose more stringent and cumbersome policies on would-be immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

However, it is not clear how Lau’s office would enter into the picture, as the criteria are based on Israel’s Law of Return and set by the Interior Ministry, not the Rabbinate. Nativ makes its decisions based on interviews with applicants and by reviewing whatever documentation they have showing they are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, which guarantees citizenship to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent so long as they do not practice another religion.

“Nativ operates based on the Law of Return and in accordance with the protocols set by the Interior Ministry. That’s all,” a Nativ official recently told The Times of Israel.

“We’re not the Rabbinate. We don’t determine Jewishness. We determine if you meet the criteria of the Law of Return.”

Yet in his meeting with Lau, Maoz said he wants to involve the Chief Rabbinate in the process as he believes it has “the ultimate halachic authority on issues of Jewishness and conversion.”

“My close, permanent connection with the Chief Rabbinate will make the processes more efficient and help the thousands of people in the midst of the process of determining their Jewishness,” Maoz said.

His office did not immediately explain how he planned to deepen the Rabbinate’s role in the process.

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