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Debating My Boyfriend Over Israel’s Orthodox Rule

Noga and her boyfriend

When I imagined my wedding day as an Israeli Jew, I envisioned choosing one of the alternatives to the Orthodox process. It would be a non-religious or a Reform ceremony, in which my partner and I would be treated as equal, a ceremony in I could express my love, and not stand as an empty, smiling vassal. To my disappointment, I recently learned that my partner does not share this wedding-day vision of mine.

Not long ago, we attended a wedding, and during the ceremony, I spelled out my dream to him. Then, in what turned out to be a part discussion/part argument, he told me he was not willing to skip the traditional Jewish Orthodox wedding. I explained the humiliation I feel just by thinking about all the processes I would have to go through as a Jewish woman. He said he was sorry I feel this way, but that he must put his foot down: tradition is important to him, and he was raised to respect it. The thought of this matter threatening to break us up sometime in the future was unsettling, but I just couldn’t see myself choosing his path.

I am a proud Israeli. I love my country and I am honored to speak for it whenever someone is trying to spin the truth regarding various aspects of the reality here. There are certain aspects, though, that I disagree with, and when it comes to the Orthodox rule, my feelings go far beyond disagreement.

The Orthodox rabbinate is in charge of marriage, divorce, conversion to Judaism, determining if a product is kosher and many other things. This means that same-sex couples cannot be officially acknowledged as married; conversion to Judaism becomes official only after the person who wish to convert proves he or she is living an Orthodox lifestyle; and people whose Jewish roots are not well-established must go through hell in order to get married.

What bothers me the most about Orthodox control, though, is the discrimination against women when it comes to marriage and divorce, which can only be legal if performed by the official Orthodox rabbinate of Israel. One example is the dipping in the mikveh in order for the wife-to-be to “clean up” before being handed to her husband, and, of course, the humiliating process of signing the marriage document, or ketubah in which the father of the bride gives the wife-to-be to her future husband.

This shortlist shows what many liberals before me have stated: that Israel’s commitment to freedom of religion stands in contrast to the powerful position the Orthodox rabbinate enjoys. In recent years, however, more and more people are choosing alternative ways, while sacrificing official state approval, and therefore not fully enjoying the benefits of a married couple (tax reductions, for example). This is something my mother would have never dreamed of doing when she got married, and so she subjected herself to ceremonies she disagreed with.

A few days after our discussion, my boyfriend elaborated on his position. He explained to me that this Orthodox rule, which truly discriminates against women, is the reason we are still here. He reminded me of something I long forgot, which is the fact that the Orthodox rabbinate, the power center of the “Jewish” part of Israel, is our country’s source of legitimacy. Israel was founded as a Jewish state, with the promise that the Jews will never again need to run or hide. It was established on the foundations of a shared Jewish identity, as a place Jewish people from all around the world could call home. “Take that away,” he said, “and we lose our source of legitimacy, the reason we’re all here, not scattered across the globe.”

I still don’t think I’ll be willing to go down the Orthodox path to marriage, and I still oppose the sole Orthodox rule in Israel. But my conversation with my boyfriend made me stop and think.

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