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Apparently, there were a number of child Holocaust survivors who were separated from their parents and never found them. They were adopted and raised by Non-Jewish families.

As they became adults, traces of their history emerge as people tell them that they are actually Jewish. But, as they had been raised as non-Jews and not being circumcised, they have no definitive proof that they are. There are no relatives and no historical records identifying them or their families.

Halachically, can someone use the results of a DNA test to prove Jewish identity? If this has been done, how reliable are such results?

marked as duplicate by DonielF, sabbahillel, mbloch, Joel K, רבות מחשבות Feb 12 at 18:09

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  • Your question would be improved by the addition of some more background information or statistics, such as reliability percentages. – LN6595 May 18 '16 at 17:48
  • @LN6595 Are you referring to statistics on how many children were adopted? Why would this matter? My question is meant to be general and not specific to child Holocaust survivors. – DanF May 18 '16 at 17:55
  • @DanF I am referring to the statistical reliability of the genetic tests. – LN6595 May 18 '16 at 18:29
  • @MonicaCellio I had not intended that this would become a bit more of a scientific discussion, based on many of the comments. Should this question be migrated to one of the other Stack Exchange forums? If so, which one? – DanF May 19 '16 at 18:19
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The use of DNA testing has been hotly debated in a number of cases, e.g., proving parenting to obtain child support, checking if a person died to permit his wife to remarry, preventing inheritance, etc.

Poskim are not in unanimous agreement but generally not inclined to use DNA testing, e.g., because of lack of 100% reliability (with the grave consequences of e.g., a woman being married twice) or second-order issues (e.g., creating mamzerim), although in certain specific situations DNA tests have been used to strengthen other proofs.

R Shlomo Brody (Yeshivat Hakotel) writes about the mix of opinions

  • Dayan Shlomo Dichovsky argued that DNA testing cannot provide absolute accuracy to deem a child a mamzer, but is sufficient to create enough doubt to prevent inheritance or child support (Assia 5).

  • Other colleagues, including Rabbi Avraham Shapira, rejected any distinctions and all DNA evidence.

  • Rabbi Shmuel Vosner has also distinguished the admissibility of DNA evidence in different areas of law, stating that it remains insufficient to convict criminals or create mamzerim, but can be used in inheritance cases when there are no competing claims, and in
    certain cases of agunot (Tehumin 21).

  • Rabbi Shlomo Auerbach allowed DNA evidence to identify babies mistakenly confused in a hospital, and further asserted that it could be used for paternity testing if its science becomes universally accepted (Nishmat Avraham EH 4:35).

  • Following this assertion, Rabbi Zalman Goldberg and the Rabbinical Council of America's judicial court employed DNA (and other) evidence to prevent spouses of 9/11 victims from becoming agunot.

  • While some continue to contend that we can still ignore DNA evidence to prevent mamzerim, others believe that when confronted with incontrovertible scientific evidence, Jewish law must recognize the truth, no matter which way it cuts.

I asked the CEO of the leading Israeli genealogy software company who told me that DNA tests could be used with 98% reliability to tell someone he was Jewish. This might be good to encourage someone to convert but might not be a halachic proof.

So it seems that, for now, and possibly waiting for better DNA testing technology, DNA testing cannot be the sole evidence of Jewishness. As Monica Cellio wrote in the comments above, the solution in case of presumption of Jewishness is conversion, which makes it an easier problem to solve than the issues discussed above.

For further reading, see here, here, here and there.

  • Is that 98 percent that he has a Jewish patent or specifically a Jewish mother? You need the latter to be halachikly Jewish. – Orion Oct 16 '18 at 23:31
  • DNA tests do not differentiate between mother and father DNA - in any case 98% wouldn't be enough to consider someone as Jewish. As I wrote it might convince someone to convert halachically though – mbloch Oct 17 '18 at 7:12

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