‘Three weddings and a statement’ challenges Chief Rabbinate on marriage

Three Israeli couples are being married in a synagogue in Washington, D.C. March 26 in protest of their own country, whose Chief Rabbinate will not allow them to marry.

By SUZANNE POLLAK
March 21, 2019 01:05
4 minute read.
Couples kiss during a mass wedding at coastal city of Larnaca

Couples kiss during a mass wedding at coastal city of Larnaca. (photo credit: REUTERS/YIANNIS KOURTOGLOU)

 
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WASHINGTON – Three Israeli couples are being married in a synagogue in Washington on Tuesday in protest of their own country, whose Chief Rabbinate will not allow them to marry.

One couple is gay; another would prefer an egalitarian service. The groom of the third couple is the son of a deaf couple, whose mother was Christian but converted to Judaism while still living in Romania. The State of Israel and the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate does not recognize the prospective groom’s late mother’s conversion because she was deaf.

All three couples said they would prefer to be married in Israel.

The Jewish State does not recognize marriages performed outside sanctioned religious authorities. Interfaith and same-sex marriages also are illegal.

Jews must be married in an Orthodox ceremony by an Orthodox rabbi for their marriage to be recognized. However, Israeli citizens who go abroad to be married will be recognized as married when they return to Israel.

Israeli activist Anat Hoffman – executive director of Israel Religious Action Center and  – contacted Rabbi Bruce Lustig, senior rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation, to help these three couples. The result: Three Weddings and a Statement, in which the three couples will be married in a Reform ceremony in the United States.

“Washington Hebrew has a long, proud history of support of civil rights,” and agreed to the throw the wedding, explained David Astrove, a synagogue past-president and co-chair of the event. “It was an opportunity to support our friends and family in Israel.”

Lustig said that to him the issue of whose marriage is recognized by the State of Israel “is really important not just for the State of Israel but for the state of the Jewish people… If people want an Orthodox wedding, they should be able to have, but it’s not for everyone.”

Washington Hebrew Congregation – a Reform synagogue – and Adas Israel Congregation – a Conservative synagogue – are sponsoring Three Weddings and a Statement, along with the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

The combined wedding will include a huppah (Jewish marriage canopy), the breaking of the glass, a band and an a capella group. It will be a catered event with drinks “and lots of horas,” said Jennifer Millstone, synagogue communications manager.

She said the planners expect more than 1,000 guests. The wedding will be live-streamed and congregations as far as Seattle and West Bloomfield, Michigan already have signed up to watch.

Following the wedding, the sponsors will send a letter on April 9 – Israeli Election Day – to the newly-elected government asking that “all citizens of the State of Israel be permitted to legally marry in their country according to their conscience and religious choice” and that weddings performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis be recognized in Israel.


Other demands call for the end of “the ultra-Orthodox monopoly” on issues of “personal status,” and that all Israeli citizens be allowed to marry in a civil ceremony.

The upcoming weddings are the second ones that IRAC has helped arrange. Another set of Israeli couples were married at Temple Emanu-El in New York City in December of 2017, Millstone said.

Hoffman, director and co-founder of Women of the Wall,  wanted a similar event set in the nation’s capital, “where legislation happens,” Millstone explained.

The excited brides and grooms include Ilia Rabkin, who was born in Russia and made Aliyah in 1998, and Sahar Malka, who was born in Netanya and raised on a moshav.

Sahar Malka and Ilia Rabkin (Courtesy)
 
In a video on the synagogue’s website, Malka – a college student – explained, “I wanted to take part in the ceremony. I wanted to give him a ring. I wanted to read him my vows.

“We didn’t want him to purchase me,” Malka continued. “We wanted it to be like an equal agreement between us.”

Aviad and Tsion Raz – who were both born and raised in Holon – met as college students at a gathering at the Beersheba Pride House. The two men had a commitment ceremony in Tel Aviv, but because it was not recognized, their IDs list them as single.

Aviad and Tsion Raz (Courtesy)
 
Anat and Shmuel Carmel also are not able to marry in their home country. Because Shmuel Carmel’s mother is deaf, her conversion from Christianity to Judaism is not recognized. Carmel only found that out after he was circumcised, had a bar mitzvah and served in the army. He is classified as “without religion.”

Carmel agreed to convert to Judaism but chose to undergo a Reform conversion, which is not recognized by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

 Anat and Shmuel Carmel (Courtesy)

All three couples currently are in transit to the United States.

“Everyone is very supportive, not only in our congregation but throughout the community,” Astrove said.

Additional event funders include the Elizabeth and Richard Dubin Family Heritage Fund, GLOE – the Kurlander Program for GLBTQ Outreach and Engagement, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and Jewish Women International.

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