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.
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.