For the Jewish Chronicle December 14 2018
The mystery surrounding the identity of a man who was married in jail under the auspices of the London Beth Din — but who may in reality be a Sudanese Muslim facing eventual deportation from the UK — deepened this week.
In August this year, Rabbi Julian Shindler performed a religious marriage ceremony in Pentonville Prison between a man calling himself David Edouard Sassoon and a British Jewish woman, Sharon Levy.
But a new document — a supposed birth certificate — has emerged, which identifies him as Khaled el-Sheriff, born in Egypt to an Egyptian mother and a Sudanese father.
Rabbis from the Beth Din who presided over Sassoon’s prison marriage were this week said to be “making inquiries”.
In a statement, they said: “The halachot of how we establish a person’s Jewish status take account of the historical reality that it was rarely possible to verify beyond all doubt that a person, not previously known to the community was, in fact, born Jewish.
“As such, the halacha requires that we undertake appropriate investigations but expects us to rely heavily on the testimony of the applicant as evidence of his or her Jewish status.”
Sassoon has already served previous prison sentences in Britain and America after being convicted of fraud.
In December 2016, the JC ran a detailed story about Sassoon’s claims: he insisted he had been a US Marine, which the Marines denied; and that his mother, whom he said was called Josephine Cattaui Sassoon, had died in the Amia Jewish centre bombing in Buenos Aires in 1994, a claim which was also denied by the Amia archivists.
He maintained that he was Jewish and had been born in America on the day that the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, October 6.
In America, he served a prison sentence in Fort Dix, New Jersey, under the name of Khaled el-Sheriff. He told the JC that he had been in prison undercover for the US government, posing as a Muslim to smoke out Muslim extremists.
He is understood to have applied to the Jewish Agency to emigrate to Israel but was turned down because the organisation did not accept his claims that he was Jewish.
Nevertheless, Sassoon re-applied to the London Beth Din for recognition of his Jewish identity and his subsequent marriage.
A spokesman for the Beth Din acknowledged that a number of documents that he had presented to support his case were “obviously fraudulent”, but after various inquiries concluded that he was “probably” Jewish and that a religious marriage could take place.
The Ministry of Justice confirmed that such a ceremony took place in Pentonville in August this year but they would not say what Sassoon was in prison for or how long his sentence was.
This month, however, his ex-partner — who is the mother of Sassoon’s son and who has asked not to be named — became aware of the marriage and denounced it as invalid.
She made available to the JC a birth certificate which had been prepared by the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior and was supplied to her by the British Home Office immigration authorities.
She said she had asked for it because she wanted to sort out “the mess on my son’s birth certificate”. It stated, she said, that the child’s father was called David Sassoon, which she did not believe to be true.
Rabbis from the London Beth Din, however, claimed this birth certificate had emerged earlier this year when it was presented by the Home Office at an immigration hearing.
They suggested it was dismissed by the judge as “not reliable”. No details of the hearing have been made available by the Beth Din.
The document appears to be the birth certificate of Khaled el-Sheriff and shows him to be a Sudanese national — and, crucially, a Muslim — born in Giza, Egypt, on September 25, 1973.
It names his father as Abdel Wahab Mohamed Mohamed, and his mother as Nawal Mohamed Gad.
The JC has seen the email attached to the el-Sheriff birth certificate and it seems that the immigration officer believes Sassoon and el-Sheriff to be the same person.
Sassoon’s ex-partner says she understands the intention is to deport the fraudster to Sudan once his prison sentence is complete.
A Home Office spokesman said they did “not routinely comment on individual cases” but added: “All foreign nationals who are given a custodial sentence will be considered for deportation”.