Of course our initial response to Ashdod Chief Rabbi Yosef Sheinin’s assertion עברית that “[Russian immigrants] will do everything possibly to deceive. They are to be assumed to be cheaters" is horror and revulsion. At the very least, Sheinin should hire a spokesperson more skilled in diplomacy than he himself is. But let’s examine the issue disregarding for the moment Sheinin’s offensive words.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Sheinin is right: Russian immigrants are lying in order to be accepted into Sheinin’s club. Can we blame them? They’re being set up for failure. First we lure them here on the premise of meeting an irrelevant criterion (one Jewish grandparent) and for our own paranoid ends (adding to the non-Arab population), then when they arrive, we tell them, “Oh yeah, we forgot to inform you that a primary civil right will be denied you”. Who among us wouldn’t at least consider trying to get around a hulking bureaucracy rather than jumping through its Kafkaesque hoops? And let’s not forget that we’re only talking here about the negligible numbers of “obedient” immigrants* who have sought conversion.
The more I turn over this intractable problem in my mind, the harder I hit the wall: There is simply no way that we Jews will arrive at a consensus on who is a Jew, and corollarily, who is a rabbi. Would that there could be a worldwide (interplanetary? Intergalactic?) Jews Database, but not even the Cyber Age would solve this one: We’d still need someone behind it all ― someone we all trust and whose rulings we agree to abide by ― to honcho the whole thing, to approve or reject those logging in to register, to send out the confirmation e-mails with your Jewser Name and Password.
The answer to me appears to run counter to the calls for unity: A Jewish nation that continually subdivides according to groupings and followings of individuals ordained as rabbis, whose conversions and marriages certain Jews accept and others do not. The key, of course, is for governments to stay out of the religion business, i.e., the government must assiduously avoid backing any one or more particular group(s) of Jews, or their institutions or rabbis. Each Jew decides for herself which kashrut seal to accept and which other Jews are kosher enough for her children to marry.
Besides, the system is warped from the git-go: Is the Gerer Rebbe’s grandchild required to show up at the local rabbinate bureau waving her mom’s ketuba at the clerk in order to be granted a marriage license?
*”Immigrants” having now become Israeli shorthand for “Russian speakers”