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