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What You Need to Know About Marrying Outside the Ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel

What You Need to Know About Marrying Outside the Ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel

White cloth chuppah with Jewish star in the background

“My partner and I will soon pull out our passports, your honors, and exchange vows on foreign soil. Not your sick institutions and not the State which you are trying to take ownership of – neither will take away from this moment, that is also for us, secular Israelis, believe it or not, sacred. You will not decide on what pillars our home will be built, because we believe in strong, liberal, and egalitarian pillars that bring light into our home.

And you? You are shades that have been pulled down, closed off rooms, representatives of the Stone Age who insist on imposing an old-fashioned world, only for political gain. And why do we need to pay the price? We might as well pay for a plane ticket.”

These are the words of Rotem Izak, a secular Israeli woman, writing the thoughts that are in the hearts and minds of thousands of young Israelis who decide to get married in a pluralistic and egalitarian ceremony that is not recognized by the State of Israel. They turn their back on Israel’s ultra-Orthodox rabbinic establishment, which is foreign to them and to so many non-Orthodox Israelis.

Izak is part of a growing group of Israelis: In an Israel Democracy Institute survey conducted in 2013, 59% of respondents said they support granting equal status to all Jewish denominations in Israel, a percentage that continues to grow.

At present, the State of Israel recognizes only the Orthodox chief rabbinate’s wedding ceremony as legitimate – which means that anyone who chooses a different path must either get married in a civil ceremony, as Izak and her partner did, or remain legally single in the eyes of Israeli authorities. Even those who marry outside the realm of the chief rabbinate still must go through the ultra-Orthodox establishment to receive a divorce (unless they prepared in advance a legal document claiming otherwise).

In recent years, though, a growing number of Israeli couples have been turning to non-Orthodox options for meaningful Jewish wedding ceremonies. The Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) estimates that approximately a thousand couples each year have their weddings officiated by Reform rabbis, whether they go through the IMPJ’s department of lifecycle event services, or directly through a rabbi in the field. Hundreds more choose other options, including the Masorti (Conservative) Movement and other institutions. Some even choose an Israeli-style justice of the peace to officiate.

A long road still exists before the State of Israel will recognize traditional Jewish weddings conducted outside the ultra-Orthodox rabbinic establishment. Many issues concern political pressures over which the average Israeli has no control. But Izak and so many others, myself included, have already made a change. In doing so, we have introduced hundreds more Israelis who attended our weddings to the option for both women and men to have meaningful, egalitarian wedding ceremonies in Israel.

Just before concluding the wedding ceremony, it is customary to break a glass. Jewish tradition teaches us that by doing so we are reminded – on the most joyous day of one’s life – of one of the most devastating moments in Jewish history, the destruction of the Temple. Progressive Jewish tradition attributes this ritual to the remembrance of wrongdoings in the world that still need to be repaired.

I want to suggest another meaning for this long-held custom: the breaking of a glass symbolizes one more step toward the breaking of the glass ceiling that currently leaves one of the most significant moments in a couple’s life in the hands of an ultra-Orthodox, archaic monopoly. When we do finally break this ceiling, we will all chant, as we do when a couple comes under the chuppah:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam,
shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, vigilant laz'man hazeh.

We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of all:
for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this time of joy.

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