Now that the Israeli gymnast Artem Dolgopyat has once again brought honor to Israel by recently winning a gold medal at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championship in Munich, the clamor to push the issue of civil marriage back to the top of the political agenda will, sooner or later, likely increase in volume. Especially if the most Jewish of all Jewish mothers, who just happens not to be Jewish, have a say.
It was a year ago or so that the superbly talented but halachically not Jewish Dolgopyat won the gold medal in this very challenging and highly competitive event at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. The athlete, however, was virtually shoved off the winner’s podium by his mother, who declared to the world that Israel, the country for which her son brought unprecedented glory, will not permit him to marry the young woman he loves. The world’s media outlets, which love nothing more than spotlighting what is perceived as Israeli flaws and blemishes, went viral with this item, and suddenly Israel’s domestic policies regarding love and marriage were subject to question and speculation.
The issue of establishing some form of civil marriage has been raised now and then over the years, as well as during the short-lived change in government. Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s contingent of the brokered rotation arrangement endorsed the idea, and was ready, unencumbered by any saber waving or other interference from the haredi parties, to introduce legislation that would have provided a way to circumvent getting married in Israel under the exclusive authority and certification of the rabbinate.
Unexpectedly though, the Bennett side of the coin was to some extent in agreement and did not threaten sanctions should there be coalition support for what would be a very major change. It’s fair to say, I guess, that had coalition cooperation not gone south over other matters, Israel would very possibly have had by now a very dangerous and problematic system of civil marriage available for public use. The issue will obviously remain in the periphery until November 2, at which time we will hopefully have some idea of who the next prime minister will be. The fate of civil marriage will then most certainly be determined one way or the other.
Although the Internet provides a considerable number of readily accessible arguments in support of civil marriage, posted objections to such a practice in English are, oddly, far and few between. Consequently, the part of the world that has taken an interest in this matter is not seeing the big picture and cannot understand the contentiousness over the intended legislation, or the long-range difficulties that would likely come about should there be a significant increase in the number of Israelis being married under the ceiling in some city hall office and not under a chuppah (wedding canopy).
They do not, for example, fully appreciate the threat of intermarriage to the Jewish people, and while civil marriage is permissible elsewhere in the world, surely there must be some agreement that marriage is a bond that deserves to be sanctified and not contracted. Footnotes to this issue, at least from the perspective of the Jewish state, are missing or being overlooked. High time, I think, to correct this oversight.
Although I am not among those who believe intermarriage to be another Holocaust, the adverse impact such unions have on Jewish continuity cannot be understated. I’m not unaware that the less stringent, non-Orthodox branches of Judaism are somewhat more accepting of interfaith marriage, and Reform rabbis have, in fact, been officiating at such ceremonies for some time. There is, though, an inherent danger in ignoring or rewriting rules and laws which will undoubtedly compromise the unity essential for our continued existence.
But it’s not only the increased number of non-Jews in the population of Israel (and the world) that we need to be wary of, although that will undoubtedly complicate the already befuddled issue of who is a Jew. Interfaith families will inevitably demand that a hybrid version of Judaism be recognized and accepted as valid.
And it won’t only be Israel’s Arab population that will adamantly object to the controversial nation-state law. Israeli citizens who associate themselves with a religion other than Judaism will, too, claim discrimination and demand official recognition. It’s not at all inconceivable that, should civil marriage in Israel be officially implemented, the Christian calendar will, at some point, become part of the local landscape. Israel recognizes the rights of all religions to freely practice the fundamentals of their respective faiths, but Judaism is the acknowledged official religion of this country and must never be contested.
One of the unfortunate results of the Swinging Sixties was the challenge to many of the existing social systems and norms, including marriage. Living together without what were perceived as troublesome commitments became a common if not universally accepted family structure. In addition, sizable segments of the twenty-something population – Jew and non-Jew alike – turned away from having their unions sanctified by a religious authority and chose, instead, to have the knot tied by a bureaucrat of one sort or another. Indeed, if it were left in the hands of those who view marriage as nothing more than a contract between two human beings, a Middle East franchise of Las Vegas’s famous Hitchin’ Post would open in the heart of Tel Aviv, and an Elvis impersonator would be brought over to oversee the honors.
I’m by no means a romanticist but initiating a commitment of mutual love and care using a document that, for all practical purposes, is the same Coca-Cola uses to supply its product to groceries and supermarkets is an insult to what marriage is all about. Moreover, forsaking the traditional Jewish ceremony for a rubber stamp is an affront to what the wedding protocol is intended to be.
And if we can’t prevent Jewish couples from traveling to Cyprus or other destinations to avoid undergoing what they regard as superstitious drivel, well, there is certainly no reason to make it easier or less costly for them. Shattering a glass under the chuppah and the joyous sound it makes introduces a new chapter in the lives of the couple, who have decided to create a Jewish family.
Even though Artem Dolgopyat was undoubtedly made aware, prior to making aliyah, that he would not be permitted to get married in Israel. I feel bad for him, I really do. I’m not unsympathetic to the predicament he and others like him are in and wish there was some easy, uncomplicated way for him to marry in the country he trains hard for and now calls home. Unfortunately, allowing civil marriage, here, would open a Pandora’s Box that promises nothing but trouble. Which is something that Mrs. Dolgopyat will simply have to accept.
The writer is a retired technical communicator currently assisting nonprofit organizations in the preparation of grant submissions, and struggling to master the ins and outs of social media.