‘We need religious freedom’
A VETERAN Orthodox organisation has called for an end to the religious monopoly over marriage in Israel, and the introduction of civil marriage.
The modern-Orthodox group, Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah (NTA), launched a campaign for change on Sunday. It is thought to be the first Orthodox group to issue such a call.
While the Orthodox community in Israel usually argues that keeping marriage religious is essential to the country’s Jewish identity, NTA’s spokesman, Tani Frank, claimed civil marriage “will reduce antagonism towards Judaism”.
The campaign will involve seminars and lectures, and began with an 80-second video that poked fun at the religious authorities. Viewers were told that in an age of choice, the rabbinate “comes to the rescue” by “freeing you from one significant decision”, namely who should perform their marriage. “We’ve decided for you, because we all know coercion greatly increases identification,” it said sarcastically, adding that with thinking like this, “it’s no wonder everyone in Israel loves Judaism”.
Mr Frank said the rabbinate alienated many couples through its hardline stance on Jewish law, for example when rabbis only let men give women rings at weddings and not vice-versa.
NTA does not have a detailed proposal for changing marriage in Israel. Rather, said Mr Frank, it wants to trigger a conversation in the religious community. NTA claimed there was openness to the idea after a poll it commissioned concluded 49 per cent of the religiousZionist community supported some form of civil marriage.
But Yuval Cherlow, a prominent rabbi in another liberal Orthodox organisation, Tzohar, dismissed the poll as “nonsense”. Tzohar is a strong critic of the rabbinate, like NTA, but wants it to reform to become more user-friendly.
Rabbi Cherlow said that the rabbinate needed to keep control of marriage because it represented the “core” of Jewish identity. He also argued civil marriage would be used to wed Jews and non-Jews, thus sending out the message that Israel approves of intermarriage.
ISRAEL IS the only Western country where Jewish people do not experience religious freedom.
So says Yizhar Hess, chief executive of Israel’s Masorti movement, who is on a mission to end the “monopoly” Orthodox rabbis have over life in Israel.
Mr Hess has been in London to raise awareness of the contentious issue. In an interview with the JC, he said: “When the country was established, David Ben Gurion needed the support of the ultraOrthodox movement and for that he was willing to make concessions and give them the keys to Jewish identity.
“He later acknowledged that that was a mistake.”
According to Mr Hess, 7.1 per cent of Israeli Jews define themselves as Masorti or Reform. The two strands have long worked together with secular activists to affect change.
Marriage is key to their efforts. He said: “You can be a rabbi of a congregation of 3,000 people in London, but if you’re not Orthodox your marriage cannot be performed in Israel.
“This is challenging from
“Israel should be home of all Jews”: Hess a democratic point of view and harms the Zionist nature of Israel. Israel should be, and is, the home of all Jewish people.”
Many travel overseas to tie the knot, in particular to Cyprus and the Czech Republic. “So the clerk of the municipality in Larnaka has the authority to be recognised in Israel but a rabbi to millions does not,” said Mr Hess.
“It is simply unacceptable that a young couple cannot choose how they want to be married in a state they serve and pay taxes to.”
Masorti Judaism believes “the halachah should not be frozen in time but should develop over time”.
Central to that is the Kotel, whose status as an Orthodox-dominated prayer area was under negotiation for four years. In January 2016, an agreement was reached to create a new egalitarian space on the southern flank of the Kotel, but the arrangement has not been implemented and this year came under threat from bills introduced by Orthodox parties in the Knesset. “The Israeli government passed this historic resolution but didn’t have the courage to implement it due to the severe pressure from the Charedi parties,” said Mr Hess. “In many ways it’s a spit in the face of so many Jews.”
The matter will be decided upon in Israel’s Supreme Court in June.
Activists protest for the right to civil marriage in front of the Knesset