Apr. 9, 2013
Reform Wedding Outside Knesset Highlights
Lack of Recognition of Non-Orthodox Judaism
A Jewish couple was married in Jerusalem on Monday, March 18, 2013 with two Reform rabbis officiating. This joyous event was hardly a unique one. Over 800 couples in Israel have chosen to have Reform rabbis marry them with the numbers growing every year. What made this wedding unique was the opportunity for change that seems afoot in Israel.
Currently the State of Israel only recognizes Jewish marriages conducted in accordance with Orthodox tradition, through the Rabbinate. The Orthodox Rabbinate holds a bureaucratic monopoly on all major life cycle events, including births, marriages and deaths. Secular Israelis who choose not to be married by the Orthodox establishment are forced to seek alternatives, like travel abroad and return as married couples in order for their marriage to be officially accepted by the Interior Ministry, even though they may also have a marriage ceremony conducted non-Orthodox rabbi, which many choose to do. Rabbi Bennett Miller, National Chair of ARZA and senior rabbi at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ, stated, “We at ARZA are committed to advancing the cause of equality and full access for all of the religious streams in Israel. All Rabbis should have full authority to perform weddings and all Jewish weddings in Israel should be fully recognized by the State.” It appears that others in positions to make a difference may agree.
Lin Dror and Alon Marcus are the happy couple and they decided to be the change they want to see. They believe they should not need to go abroad to have their union recognized by their own country, and so they did not. Thanks to the sponsorship of Knesset Member (MK) Nitzan Horowitz of the Meretz Party, they held the ceremony is a very significant place; opposite the Knesset. In addition to Horowitz, five Labor Party MKs were in attendance: Hilik Bar, Merav Michaeli, Miki Rosenthal, Moshe Mizrahi and Stav Shaffir. Shaffir and Bar also acted as witnesses for the couple, even though Shaffir as a woman would not have been recognized as such by the Orthodox Rabbinate.
The rabbis who performed the ceremony, Kinneret Shiryon and Gilad Kariv, are also not recognized by the Rabbinate. Rabbi Shiryon, Israel’s first female rabbi, established Kehilat Yozma in Modi’in in 1997 and is that Reform congregation’s spiritual leader. Rabbi Kariv is Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ). ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, works in close partnership with the IMPJ and is its single largest source of support.
Barbara Kavadias, Acting Executive Director of ARZA, commented, “This couple made a choice similar to many others in Israel, but they made it public. Why now? Because Progressive Jews in Israel have gained enough strength and momentum to call for change, to make that change at the polls and to have people in the Knesset who are willing to stand up, be a witness and be part of making change happen.”
This change is not guaranteed. The wedding of Lin Dror and Alon Marcus presents a challenge to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. Lapid, who is Israel’s new Minister of Finance, championed civil rights throughout the election campaign. He repeatedly said that he would challenge the religious status quo and push for civil marriages and achieve equal recognition for all Jewish denominations. However, Israel’s new Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs, MK Eli Ben-Dahan, a member of HaBayit HaYehudi, is opposed to civil marriage and it is feared that Lapid has abandoned his constituents in favor of the coalition deal with HaBayit HaYehudi. Nitzan Horowitz, who was first elected to the Knesset in 2009, posted on his Facebook page that “It is outrageous and unbelievable that this happy moment is deprived to hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are unable to marry without religious coercion.” He also said, in a statement to the media, that it was “clear that the new government will prevent freedom of choice” on the issue of marriage.
Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi who heads Hiddush, an organization which campaigns for religious freedom and equality, seems to agree, noting that “the lack of attention to religious freedom in the coalition agreements is a source of grave concern.”
However, the government has been sitting for less than one month, 80% of Israeli Jews consider themselves to be secular, they made a statement at the polls and couples like Dror and Marcus are increasingly unwilling to accept the status quo. There is reason to hope that Yair Lapid, who attends the Tel Aviv Reform congregation Beit Daniel, and whose sons celebrated their bar mitzvah ceremonies there, will champion those causes he campaigned on.
Rabbi Bennett Miller observed, “We share in the simcha of the bride and groom, applaud the courage of Rabbis Kariv and Shiryon and hope to soon see the day when marriages performed by Reform Rabbis will be fully accepted in our beloved Israel.”
ARZA, The Reform Israel Fund, is the Israel voice of the Reform Movement in the United States, and seeks to make Israel fundamental to the sacred lives and Jewish identities of Reform Jews. ARZA champions and supports activities that help build an inclusive and democratic Israeli society. Find out more at www.arza.org.