To The Israeli Government, The Only Kosher Wedding Is An Orthodox One
A version of this article originally appeared in Plus61J, an Australian-Jewish publication.
Several years ago, when I was living in Tel Aviv, I attended the wedding of some Jewish friends. The bride and groom went out of their way to identify as secular Israelis rather than Jewish, and consistently struggled to understand my connection with Judaism as a girl from Australia.
Surprisingly, they were married by a Chabad rabbi. Robbed of the option of marrying civilly (or even through a non-Orthodox stream of Judaism) and without the tools to source a rabbi more attuned to their values, my friends were married the way that the Israeli Ministry of the Interior likes its Jews to get married: by the Orthodox book, via the Rabbinate, no questions asked.
When the time came for my husband and I to marry in Israel, the overwhelming task of making our chuppah haimish was almost enough to call off the wedding. Selecting a random black-hatted rabbi that did not represent who we were as people or Jews was not an option.
But my secular partner did not have a shul to call his own, nor had I taken the time to settle down with any rabbi since I had immigrated. We eventually undertook what I would now describe as a “Bachelorette” journey of auditions to find the right rabbi to marry us.
We met with a wide array of people, ranging from rabbis who were recognized by the Rabbinate to secular marriage celebrants whose ceremonies would not be recognized as anything other than a nice speech.
We quizzed each candidate about their approach to marriage, their connection to Judaism and what they would be willing to do for a couple like us. In the end, out of a stubborn desire to be legally and halachically recognized as married in Israel, we settled on a pair of rabbis.
One male, recognized by the State and sourced through the “alternative” Rabbinate body Tzohar, and the second a female, the inspiring Dr. Melanie Landau.
The four of us wove together a moving ceremony. The male rabbi performed the bare minimum to which he was obliged, and Rabbi Melanie enriched the ceremony with Jewish, feminist content. We pushed our male rabbi to the edge by insisting on a chuppah that was halachically acceptable but egalitarian in spirit: Both my partner and I smashed a glass to remember both Jerusalem and that relationships are never perfect.
Although we felt really proud about our ceremony, a nagging regret has been digging at me for the past few years. We bought into the system. We held our female rabbi second to the male rabbi. Our act of love and commitment was also an act of acceptance of all of the injustices that the Rabbinate inflicts on those wishing to marry in Israel.
I was reminded of this last month when the Knesset passed a new law allowing Israeli rabbinical courts to have jurisdiction over cases in which Orthodox Jewish men refuse to divorce their wives — even if neither are Israeli.
While being promoted as a law that can relieve the suffering of women whose husbands will not allow them a divorce (get) under Orthodox law, I doubt that this unilateral move, imposed on Diaspora Jews, is in the best interest of world Jewry.
This is the same Rabbinate that created an international blacklist of rabbis who they judged to not be sufficiently halachic (the list included two well-respected Melbourne rabbis, Ralph Genende and Fred Morgan), and is the same Rabbinate that degrades and bullies women attempting to receive a get.
This is a system that has criminalised the act of marrying outside of the Rabbinate in Israel, leaving couples and whoever dares to officiate the ceremony at the risk of being fined and/or facing up to two years in prison.
Academic Tomer Persico aptly wrote: “Israel is the only democracy in the world in which family law is subject to a religion. It is now taking a fundamentalist step forward by joining the small number of states in which transgression against a religious law is punished by a jail sentence.”
And that is only for those Israelis who want an Orthodox marriage. Those who want a different type of marriage — non-Orthodox, same-sex, a non-Jewish partner or secular — still need to fly out of the country for a ceremony in a foreign land.
Recently, I attended a same-sex wedding in Australia that was both completely Jewish and recognized under Australian law. Even if the Australian beit din does not accept this marriage, it was nonetheless one of the most significant Jewish experiences of my life.
People wishing to marry in Israel do not have access to any of these rights.
We Diaspora Jews may still remember Jerusalem under the chuppah when we choose to marry in a religious ceremony, but I do wish Jerusalem would forget about us. We are doing marriages just fine on our own.