Jerusalem — Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has already created controversy over its microscopic scrutiny of couples wishing to marry in Israel.

Now, news that the Ministry of Religious Affairs is in the process of creating a database that eventually could include every Jew in the world for purposes of expediting marriage registration in Israel is creating even more controversy.

This week, during an Italy-based conference sponsored by the European Conference of Rabbis, Rabbi Hezekiah Samin, who heads the marriage department at the religious affairs ministry, revealed that his office is creating a worldwide database “that will provide the information as to who married a person, who approved and was assigned [to carry out the] conversion process, and what the current status of this person is, allowing us to validate the information if and when needed in the future.”

“Ostensibly, the goal is to check someone’s Jewishness with the click of a button.”

Although the move is apparently intended to make the notoriously bureaucratic marriage registration process more efficient, Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the organization ITIM, fears that the list will only lead to heartache for authentic Jews excluded from the list.

“What’s new is that Israel’s religious establishment wants to take their authority and make it international,” Rabbi Farber told The Jewish Week. “Ostensibly, the goal is to check someone’s Jewishness with the click of a button.”

Rabbi Seth Farber, right, the founder and director of ITIM, the Jewish Life Information Center. Courtesy

But in actuality, Rabbi Farber said, “this isn’t a registry of who’s Jewish as much as a tool to declare people not Jewish. Inevitably, when it comes to a database, those not on it for whatever reason are subject to suspicion.”

Rabbi Farber said the creation of a database, presumably with the close cooperation of the Chief Rabbinate, raises many unanswered questions.

“Who will decide who’s in and who’s out? How will it address the overwhelming majority of Jews who aren’t ultra-Orthodox like them? Who will input the data and have access to it? What criteria will the Rabbinate use? How can someone not on the list get on the list? What if someone spiteful tries to get someone off the list? What about security and privacy?”

“Jewish tradition always held that it is a value to protect people from the status of mamzerut,” Rabbi Farber said. “Such a list will make this impossible.”

Characterizing the plan laid out by Rabbi Samin, Rabbi Farber said any rabbi approved by the religious affairs ministry — and not just a rabbi with vital interest in knowing one’s personal Jewish status — will have unlimited access to the information stored in the database, including whether someone was adopted or has the status of a mamzer, or illegitimate child, for example.

“Jewish tradition always held that it is a value to protect people from the status of mamzerut,” Rabbi Farber said. “Such a list will make this impossible.”

Rabbi Farber also noted that the Rabbinate “is notoriously bad” at protecting the information in its files, and is subject to frequent charges of corruption. “Three weeks ago its offices were hacked, and a former Chief Rabbi was recently convicted of bribery and corruption.”

Rabbi Farber noted, too, that despite promises the Rabbinate has made in court — following suits by ITIM — to make public its list of diaspora Orthodox rabbis it recognizes and the criteria it used to establish their credentials, has largely failed to do so.

Without this knowledge, Rabbi Farber said, the authority of many prominent diaspora rabbis will not be recognized by the Rabbinate for the purposes of the database.

And while the Rabbinate’s failure to recognize many Orthodox diaspora rabbis has been conducted on a case-by-case basis until now, many more rabbis and their congregants run the risk of essentially being blacklisted, he said.

Rabbi Farber predicted that “between 75 and 90 percent of diaspora Jews will be left off this database” if you include non-Orthodox Jews.

Rabbinate spokesman Koby Alter referred questions about the database to the Ministry of Religious Affairs “because this is their initiative,” he said. A ministry spokesman confirmed that this is the case.

Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Orthodox rabbinical group in the U.S, said no one from Israel’s religious establishment has not contacted the council for any input or requests related to the international database “so we don’t know how they’re gathering their material about Jews in America and its implications.”

While the RCA “appreciates the motivation of the list,” Rabbi Dratch said, “we are nevertheless very much concerned about possible consequences.”

Historically, Rabbi Dratch said, Jewish communities haven’t relied on such lists because it is the responsibility of rabbis to resolve difficult cases

“We’re also concerned about the mistakes that inevitably appear on these lists, which can have negative consequences on people at the most vulnerable time of their lives,” Rabbi Dratch said.