Where does Yesh Atid stand on freedom of marriage?

An open letter to Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid

yair lapid 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yair lapid 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Dear Yair,

It was just announced that Yesh Atid decided to support Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Tzohar rabbis, as the candidate for chief Ashkenazi rabbi and demanded his appointment as part of your coalition negotiations. This raises a major question: Is Yesh Atid just as determined to demand freedom of marriage in Israel as it is to support Rabbi Stav?

Following your public statements on religious pluralism, as I do, I can only imagine we share similar feelings on these issues. But this question becomes doubly important in light of Rabbi Stav’s problematic positions on this very subject of marriage. I truly hope that your support for him doesn’t detract from your determination to advance a civil agenda in Israel. We need to know that you are ready to raise freedom of marriage at the negotiation table. We want to feel confident that you will not give in to the continued denial of so many Israelis’ right to marry, regardless of how antagonistic Rabbi Stav is towards civil marriage and a pluralistic Israel.

Many in Israel and the Jewish world were encouraged by your public statements less than a month ago at the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, as you enthusiastically proclaimed: “Complete dominance of the Orthodox rabbis over marriage and divorce is an insult to every free man. This is just wrong and therefore it has to disappear.” You rightly emphasized, as all Hiddush studies demonstrate, that “most Israelis want a pluralistic Judaism.” You emphatically promised that, “I’m going to do everything in my power to see that there’s going to be civil marriage.”
The problem, Yair, is that Rabbi Stav – no less than his fellow ultra-Orthodox candidates – opposes that very viewpoint which you expressed. He stands in stark contradiction to the desire of the overwhelming majority of your voters. Rabbi Stav insists on perpetuating the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over marriage and divorce. He vainly threatened that if the rabbinate’s control over marriage is not maintained, the Jewish people will “split into two or three peoples.” He is a staunch opponent of Jewish pluralism and his organization recently announced that it opposes any state recognition of Reform Judaism. He fiercely opposes civil marriages and sees them (and non-Orthodox marriages) as the direct path to apostasy and a sure recipe for the loss of those couples and their offspring to the Jewish people forever! In contrast to your commitment to advance same-sex marriages in Israel, Stav boasts that “I confronted the chair of the ‘Opposite Sexual Orientation” movement on Channel 2 and spoke against this phenomenon and the Pride Parade.”
Hardly a likely partner in the quest for a pluralistic Israel.
In your public appearances you expressed a sincere support for mainstream Jewish denominations and stressed the need for Israel to recognize them. As Rabbi Stav labels Reform conversions as “fictitious” and attacked the Supreme Court when it ruled that the State of Israel must recognize these conversions, it is very clear to me that you and Rabbi Stav do not share the same positions. Have you managed to convince him to change his views? You may have not been aware of his harsh positions on such core issues, but trust that you realize these very topics only generate more tension between Israel and the predominantly non-Orthodox diaspora Jewry.
I was glad to read that your colleague, Rabbi Shai Piron, who announced Yesh Atid’s support for Rabbi Stav’s candidacy, has expressed support for civil marriages in Israel. It is gratifying that this is the position of your party, which rose to power in order to facilitate this necessary transformation and herald in a new era for a civil agenda in Israel.
I commend Rabbi Piron for courageously declaring that he himself has changed his own views on a number of such issues, but wonder whether Rabbi Stav is similarly open. His public pronouncements certainly do not reflect that.
As I am sure you know, 94 percent of your party’s supporters want to see a reality of religious freedom and equality in Israel and 85% support recognition of all forms of marriage. Assuming that Yesh Atid remains committed to these values and its voters, it is essential that you raise your demands for freedom of religion in Israel at the negotiation table. We wish to know that the call for religious freedom will be amplified with no less volume than the announcement of your support for Rabbi Stav’s candidacy for chief rabbi. Otherwise, the integrity and trustworthiness of your party and its path may be called into question.
I cannot emphasize enough how imperative it is that at this stage of the coalition negotiations, you declare that these values are essential to you. As you enter the coalition and support Rabbi Stav’s candidacy you must not lower the flag on the mast of religious freedom and equality. As you rightfully said to the Rabbinical Assembly Convention last May, “Israel cannot be the only country in the Western world that has no freedom of religion for Jews.”
If this is to become a reality, we need to hear it from you, forcefully, here in Jerusalem, at the negotiation table. As first step, we need to know that Yesh Atid is demanding that freedom of marriage is realized, bringing Israel in line with all other world democracies, and responding to the yearning of the clear majority of Israelis and all of Yesh Atid supporters! I wish you much success in this sacred undertaking at such a crucial time for Israel.
Sincerely, Rabbi Uri Regev
Hiddush – Freedom of Religion for Israel