How Do You Prove Youre a Jew? By GERSHOM GORENBERG One day last fall, a young Israeli woman named Sharon went with her fiancé to the Tel Aviv Rabbinate to register to marry. They are not religious, but there is no civil marriage in Israel. The rabbinate, a government bureaucracy, has a monopoly on tying the knot between Jews. The last thing Sharon expected to be told that morning was that she would have to prove before a rabbinic court, no less that she was Jewish. It made as much sense as someone doubting she was Sharon, telling her that the name written in her blue government-issue ID card was irrelevant, asking her to prove that she was she. Sharon is a small woman in her late 30s with shoulder-length brown hair. For privacys sake, she prefers to be identified by only her first name. She grew up on a kibbutz when kids were still raised in communal childrens houses. She has two brothers who served in Israeli combat units. She loved the green and quiet of the kibbutz but was bored, and after her own military service she moved to the big city, which is the standard kibbutz story. Now she is a Tel Aviv professional with a masters degree, a job with a major H.M.O. and a partner when this story starts, a fiancé who is in computers. This stereotypical biography did not help her any more at the rabbinate than the line on her birth certificate listing her nationality as Jewish. Proving you are Jewish to Israels state rabbinate can be difficult, it turns out, especially if you came to Israel from the United States or, as in Sharons case, if your mother did. *SNIP*By now, though, Farber had phoned the Marathon County Register of Deeds, seeking Suzies mothers birth certificate. The request, he was told, had to come from an immediate relative. Fortunately, Danson offered to help, and Suzie sent him the necessary information by e-mail. By Friday morning five days after Suzie first called Farber Danson was at the Wausau courthouse with the papers and $20 of his own money. Belle Merskys birth certificate, faxed to Farbers home, showed that her mothers maiden name was Rose Reuben. Suzies niece visited the Jewish cemetery in Minneapolis where her grandparents were buried. The tombstones, originally placed flush with the ground, were now covered with grass and sod. She went home, returned with a shovel, and uncovered the evidence. In the photo of the gravestone that she sent by e-mail, above the name Rose Mersky in English was Hebrew: Rachel, daughter of Moshe, with the date of death, the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Elul, in the year 5714 (1954). A week into the search, evidence was coming together. In a school project her son once did, Suzie found a family photo of her grandmothers grandfather, Mikhael Ludmersky, an archetypal 19th-century Eastern European Jew with a white beard and black cap. From her familys Conservative congregation in Minneapolis she received yahrzeit cards for her grandparents records used to remind relatives of the anniversaries of their loved ones deaths, when the kaddish prayer should be recited. Even given the source, it was supporting evidence. Farber arrived at the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court about two weeks after Sharons first visit. Hed called and arranged with a judge to be squeezed in before the days docket of divorces. He had power of attorney, so Sharon didnt need to appear. He wore a black suit and a gold tie, and his face was narrow and taut. Now Ive moved up from detective to lawyer, he said. He was ushered into a tiny courtroom, where three rabbis, dressed in the black coats of the ultra-Orthodox, sat at a raised bench. Farber approached and made his case to one. He showed the series of birth certificates of Sharons maternal line, with the surnames Goldstein, Mersky, Reuben. These are all clearly Jewish names, he said. He presented the picture of the tombstone of Rachel, daughter of Moshe, and the photograph of Mikhael Ludmersky in his black cap, and the rest of his exhibits. The judge said to wait outside. Twenty minutes later, a clerk called Farber in and presented him with a one-sentence judgment stating that Sharon is a Jew. Gershom Gorenberg is the author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977. His last article for the magazine was about the construction of Israels security barrier through the West Bank.