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I am interested in the question, what forms of evidence do contemporary Orthodox batei din accept to establish that someone is Jewish? In particular, if you, your parents and grand-parents are non-Orthodox, what sort of evidence would be acceptable to prove you are Jewish to Orthodox standards? As an example, I have recently learned that a non-Orthodox ketubah is sometimes (often?) not acceptable.

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@Ariel That nytimes article is fascinating. Thanks! –  felipa Jan 25 '13 at 8:51
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Here is an example of a list of required documentation required by an Orthodox Shul in South Africa (in South Africa all marriages that take place in Orthodox Shuls are authorized by the central Beth Din):

Full, unabridged, Birth Certificate.

If this is not readily available, as an interim measure, the Beth Din will accept letters from two reliable people or a rabbi testifying that you are the biological child of your parents—the full Birth Certificate can then be submitted at a later stage.

Copy of parents’ Ketuba.

If the Ketuba is not available the following are also acceptable:

  • a letter from the Shul where their marriage took place
  • if parents are divorced, a copy of the Get certificate
  • a copy of their parents’ (your grandparents) Ketuba, along with their Full Birth Certificates

If you have been married before

You will require a Get Certificate or death certificate in respect of former spouse.

If he/she was not Jewish you will have to include an affidavit stating that this is the case and whether he/she was ever converted to Judaism.

If you come from outside South Africa

Please obtain a letter from your local Orthodox Beth Din or Orthodox rabbi (“Teudat Ravakut”) stating that you are Jewish and that you are now free to marry according to Jewish Law

If you have converted to Judasim or are adopted

Please supply the relevant documents.

The purpose of this paperwork is to establish several facts that are vital in permitting an Orthodox wedding - including: a) that the bride and groom are Jewish b) that the bride and groom do not have the Halachic status of "Mamzer" c) that any previous marriages were terminated according to Halacha (death of spouse, or Halachic Get) d) if the groom is a Cohen there will be additional restrictions.

In light of this, it is hardly surprising that only documentation from recognized Orthodox shuls will be accepted to prove the above. Non-Orthodox groups do not follow Orthodox Halachic procedure with regard to conversions/divorces and documents from such groups simply do not prove that the prerequisites for an Orthodox marriage are met.

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@Michael In my scenario your parents and grandparents are non-Orthodox. So you produce your birth certificate and your parents' ketuba and you are rejected on the grounds that your parents' ketuba is non-Orthodox. There is nothing in the list that I can see that can be used instead. Are you saying you just can't prove you are Jewish in this case? –  felipa Jan 25 '13 at 8:22
    
@felipa Such a situation can certainly be very frustrating and difficult to accept on an emotional level. But yes, unfortunately people do make lifestyle choices that can leave their grandchildren with challenges in proving their Jewishness, and at times it might not even be possible to. It would be a good idea in such a case to speak to an understanding Rabbi who might have suggestions. At least in a case that the groom is not a Cohen "giyur lechumra" (formal conversion to remove doubts) may be an option. –  Michoel Jan 27 '13 at 1:16
    
It's difficult to accept at lots of levels. It's strange when our friends (the State of Israel) and our enemies (anti-semites) class us as Jews but we, uniquely, reject our own. –  felipa Jan 27 '13 at 16:22
    
@felipa Indeed it is. I can only reiterate the importance in such a situation of a caring and helpful Rabbi who can do their utmost to help (if you wish, I can try and put you in contact with someone..) –  Michoel Jan 28 '13 at 4:01
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