I refuse to get married in Israel

By Yehonatan

I wasn’t scared of moving in together with Shira, after only a few months into our relationship, it felt like the right thing to do. I wasn’t scared of the commitment of adopting a dog together only two days after we moved in – that too felt like the right thing to do. I wasn’t scared of meeting her family, her friends or her colleagues, nor was I scared of kneeling down and proposing to her – that too felt like the right thing to do. Telling my mother that we’re not planning on getting officially married – now that was scary. And indeed, she was shocked. A Jewish couple, in Israel, living together, raising a baby, and not being married? Abomination. And she’s far from being religious – she’s just a bit old-fashioned. But we didn’t do this to upset her – we just don’t like doing things we don’t believe in, and there simply is no other option for us. You see, if you’re a happy couple who wants to wed, you have only three options in Israel– marry through the Rabbanute, the Orthodox Rabbinical Council, marry in Cyprus in a civil marriage, or marry by Fax (yes, by fax) through a lawyer in Peru. I cannot stress this enough – I am not kidding about the wedding-by-fax-in-Peru thing.

Nonetheless, if you still want to hold some sort of Jewish wedding, you can do so with a reform Rabbi, but you will still have to fly to Cyprus for it to be legally recognized in Israel. In fact, the rabbis make you promise you do so. And who wants to lie to a rabbi? I’m not sure which one of these options means less to us – having an official document in Greek saying that I’m married, having Orthodox rabbis asking me questions about my love life and my great-great grand parents’ love lives before they agree to marry me in a manner I do not believe in, or call my lawyer in Peru and have him get my wedding registered in Lima’s city hall? We chose none of the above – we will wait until Israel wakes up. (By the way, if you know a lawyer in Peru that also happens to be a Rabbi, tell them to expect to be making big bucks in the coming years.)

My mom got over her initial shock – at first she was afraid of what her friends would say, having a son who has a child but is not married. She kept it as a secret for a few days, until she learned that almost all of her friends’ children chose not to marry, and in fact not marrying is getting more and more popular in Israel. The growing popularity of it (thanks, in large extent, to the struggle of same-sex couples in recent years) has caused many of the rules to flex a bit, and unlike previous years, un-wed couples have almost as many rights as married couples do (in terms of mortgage, taxation etc.) This means that other than the symbolic religious act, or the event for families and friends, there really is no need to marry. In a switch that only my mom is capable of doing, she turned overnight into a preacher of civil marriage in Israel. “My son will not bend to the Orthodox monopoly, and will wait until Israel wakes up!” she says to all that ask. Suddenly, from being a rebel son with an out-of-marriage child, I’m at least Che Guevara in her eyes, or at least the romantic version of it, following love without following the rules.

Israel, sit. Time to do some thinking. Think of the message my children will get when they ask how come their mommy and daddy are not married. Think of the polarization you are creating. Think of how many Jews you are pushing away from Judaism by punishing them for not being orthodox. Think of the generations and generations of Jews to come that will lose all touch with Judaism, simply because you refuse to accept the fact that there are many ways of being Jewish. By holding on too tightly to your fixations of what Judaism should be like, you will lose all of us – slowly but surely, we will all go. Some will go to Cyprus, some will go to Peru, and some might even stay there, where they can be free to practice their religion and live their lives with complete freedom according to their own beliefs, not scared of religious fanaticism, not having to live according to someone else’s religion! Oh wait… haven’t we been through this before?