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?

3 thoughts on “I refuse to get married in Israel

  1. Well said, and well wishes to you, too. It’s astounding that we are putting up more and more walls, not taking them down. Israelis won’t really get the idea of religious freedom and pluralism, frankly, until they spend time in the States. We keep talking about how much American Jews need to get to Israel, so we can absorb what it’s like to have Jewishness in the very air. That’s valuable, to be sure. But we breathe in pluralism, diversity, keep-the-state-out-of-my-faith in our air, and the Israelis could use a hit. We can only build the Israel we want if we can all take part in the dream.

  2. My Canadian born daughter, now an Israeli citizen, has been living with her partner Amit (Israeli born) for several years, and they recently decided to get married. Like you, they refuse to submit to the Orthodox tyranny, and suffer through an interrogation about their personal lives and that of their respective families. Nor will they agree to a spend one of the most important days of their lives in a ceremony which holds little meaning for them. What a bitter irony. My daughter learned her Zionism at home as she grew up, and my son-in-law to be is the child of Sabras, one a kibbutznik and the other a Yerushalmit, all proud Israelis. And yet here are these two bright, young, patriotic Israelis searching for a place to get married somewhere in Europe – fleeing the very place where it should be easiest for a Jew to marry another Jew. Choosing not to marry in Israel, the Jewish State and the refuge for Jews, and going instead to the continent that gave us the Holocaust, where they will be free to have the kind of Jewish wedding ceremony that they want. Were it not so ugly and tragic, one could laugh all the way to the Chupah.

  3. As I was ready to get married in Israel, the Rabanut asked for a certificate from the Orthodox Rabi in Bogota (my place of origin) certifying that I was jewish and not married by our religion. The Rabi (who has known me for 40 years and is an absolute SOB) refused to extend the certificate, suggesting I go to my Conservative Rabi in Bogota, who is, OF COURSE , not recognized in Israel. I was free to be married by a Conservative Rabi (as I wished), but we were informed that our children , if we should have them, would be considered “ilegitimate” in this country. WHAT A PEST THOSE GUYS ARE!

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