Shabbat Goy: Silly and Exclusionary

Being neither a citizen nor a Jew, this civil weddings business has nothing to do with me. But to consider it a threat to Jewish identity?!

By AKIN AYAJI
August 6, 2010 16:20
4 minute read.
A cartoon portaying the process of prooving one's judaism

Lineage Cartoon311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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It will soon be our wedding anniversary. This time six years ago, Mrs. Goy and I were locked in mortal combat concerning the minutiae of the wedding arrangements.

Who would have thought that something as inconsequential as the color of my tie could cause so much angst? Ah, fun times.... One thing we did not have the option of squabbling about, of course, was the question of where we were going to be married. I’m not entirely certain that we would have gone for a ceremony conducted by a rabbi, even if it had been an option; but it would have been nice to have had the choice.

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This business of civil weddings – or, to be precise, the absence of civil weddings – in Israel perplexes me. Of course, being neither a citizen nor a Jew, my opinion on the matter doesn’t count for very much. But that doesn’t mean that the rights of people who are either unwilling or unable to marry under the current dispensation shouldn’t be up for discussion.

Take, for instance, the dilemma faced by Hilary Rubin. According to recent newspaper reports, Ms. Rubin – an olah from the United States and a descendant of Nahum Sokolov – recently found out, to her dismay, that the Rabbinate will not allow her to marry in Israel unless she submits to jumping through a number of hoops first.

She balked at being asked to establish four generations of matrilineal Jewish descent – apparently the rule since her parents were not married in Israel: On grounds of pragmatism and principle, she refused to submit herself to the uncertainty of interrogation by the Beit Din and decided to get married elsewhere.

Of course, this is not a particularly unusual story. In fact, there are any number of people every year who are similarly prevented from marrying due to the obstinacy of the Rabbinate, primary among them being Israel’s significant population from the former Soviet Union.

The truth is that this story is newsworthy only because of Rubin’s esteemed lineage – Zionist rather than Jewish, that is. It is all the more ironic because Sokolov, chairman of the World Zionist Congress in the early days of the last century, succeeded through writing and intellectual debate in engaging a following that crossed the spectrum of Polish Jewish society – from “secular intellectuals to anti-Zionist haredim.” He thus contributed to a convergence of political and religious Jewish thought at a time when the notion of a Jewish homeland was still very much in its infancy.

But none of this has anything to do with me. While it seems rather petty that I couldn’t get married in Israel, I at least had other options available. Concerning the citizenry of this country, it seems particularly absurd that they cannot get married in a ceremony of their choice because the state will not permit it; nor, for that matter, run the risk of not being allowed to marry even in the only form of ceremony available to them – a Jewish ceremony – because they are not, in the eyes of the gatekeepers, Jewish enough.

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I have been told that, in relation to the first point at least, it is not an actual ban on Jewish Israelis marrying outside the auspices of the Rabbinate. One can always go to Cyprus.

Right, I see. Next thing, you’ll expect me not to believe that the Rabbinate receives a commission from travel operators on a referral basis: “Nope, you can’t get married according to the laws of Moses and of Israel. But I do know of a very nice hotel in Larnaca....”

BUT SERIOUSLY. Israel, as we are so often reminded, is a democracy rather than a theocracy; the current state of affairs has nothing to do with a desire to submit wholesale to the dictates of the clerical class, but is rather a holdover from a bit of political horse-trading half a century ago.

Since I wasn’t here that long ago, I have no particular insight into the threats to Jewish identity that existed at the time – nor, for that matter, into the threats to Ben- Gurion’s coalition that induced him into offering the Rabbinate a monopoly over socalled life events.

What I do know is that a lot has changed since then, and to consider civil weddings a threat to Jewish identity is silly and exclusionary.

Perhaps the majority of people who are not directly affected by these limitations – those indifferent to being wedded by a rabbi, for instance – might think otherwise if an attempt were made to codify the present situation in law. Perhaps not. Either way, the unfairness of the situation is something worth sitting up and paying attention to. It simply isn’t right to encroach on the rights of a significant minority of the population, just because....

Of course, the real shame is that these restrictions are pretty self-defeating. As a philosophy and as a way of life, there is much that is fascinating about Judaism and Jewish thought. A pluralistic approach, I think, will only strengthen the notion of Jewish identity, since people will participate because they want to rather than because they are obliged to.

Who knows, had it been possible, I might have even consented to being wed by a rabbi. I’ve always fancied the idea of smashing a goblet underfoot. That, and having Mrs. Goy’s monetary value set by the ketuba. I’d quite like to establish my proprietorial rights over her in front of an audience.

And it’s always useful to know exactly how much one’s chattels might fetch in the open market.

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