Israel’s ‘Non-Jewish Jews’
The JTA has a great story on the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who came to Israel under its Law of Return, and yet are not officially regarded as Jews by the state because their mothers are not Jewish. They live in Jewish society, many have Jewish ancestry and identify as Jews, they serve in the army, and yet they have to travel abroad to get married (at least if they’re marrying someone who is defined as a Jew under halacha, since the Chief Rabbinate has a monopoly on marriage, and won’t allow a Jew to marry someone who is not Jewish under halacha).
The JTA’s Dina Kraft does a great job of humanizing an issue that is a great challenge for the Jewish state, and for the entire Jewish people. (Although some of Kraft’s descriptions of her subjects’ ancestries are quite confusing.)
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
For Vera Gorman, 21, whose family immigrated to Israel from Russia seven years ago and whose mother’s grandfather was Jewish, the sting of exclusion hit for the first time when it came time to marry. In Israel, where there is no civil marriage, all citizens must be married by clergymen, and Jewish clergy are not allowed to perform intermarriages. Vera is Jewish but the man she planned on marrying, Maxim Gorman, was not, so there was no way for the couple to get married in Israel. Instead, they had to go to Prague. Marriages abroad are recognized in Israel. Vera said she and Maxim were angry and bewildered by the rules. Maxim, 25, who served in an IDF combat unit and twice was injured in fighting in Gaza, said he does not understand why, if he spilled blood for his country, he had to go to abroad on the most important day of his life. “It was especially hard because although I am not Jewish according to halachah, I do feel Jewish in my heart,” he said. “In my opinion, state and religion simply do not go together. Israel needs to be democratic and Jewish, and we need to protect our traditions because this is what unites us. But we live in the 21st century and we need to be going forward.”
Read the full article..
One aspect of this huge topic that the article touches on only briefly is the portion of this population that practices Christianity or displays Christmas trees. Secularist Israeli poltico Yossi Paritsky recently wrote an article for Yediot Aharanot lamenting the growing visibility of Christmas trees in Israel and arguing that those who practice Christianity shouldn’t be allowed to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.