Ask the Rov: If someone walks into shul and tells me he is Jewish, may I count him for the minyan?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
The Gemara states that all families have a chazaka of kosher lineage, and if someone claims that he’s Jewish and fit to marry into the Jewish nation (i.e., not a mamzer or the like), he is trusted. Shulchan Aruch records this as halacha.1
Rishonim explain that this chazaka is twofold: a known Jew is believed that his lineage is unblemished, and a stranger is believed that he’s Jewish, though we have no prior knowledge of his background.2 However, someone who we know not to be Jewish is not believed to say that he converted without bringing sufficient proof.3
Three reasons serve as grounds to believe one who says he is Jewish:
- Most of those appearing before us and claiming to be Jewish are in fact Jewish.
- One who appears and acts as a Jew is assumed to be
- A person doesn’t lie about something that will become apparent later.4
Although one could argue that the chazaka was only during the time of the Beis Hamikdash when the majority of the population in Eretz Yisroel was Jewish, most Rishonim understand it to apply even in times and locations where most are not Jewish.5 While the Rambam says that proof is necessary nowadays, the Bach suggests that this is specifically when the person admits that he was born gentile but converted.6
In contemporary times, we cannot assume that the majority of those claiming to be Jewish are indeed Jews since there are many benefits to being Jewish, such as marriage and Israeli citizenship. Additionally, the person may believe so because their father is Jewish, or they underwent non-kosher conversion.7 Therefore a proper verification must be done before marrying them.
Conversely, to be counted as part of a minyan and receive an aliya, walking into shul and stating that he is Jewish is sufficient, unless there is reason to suspect that he is lying.8 Yet, when possible, one should ask some questions to ascertain that he is not mistaken.
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From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash