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Why Three Israeli Couples Came to the U.S. to Be Married

Why Three Israeli Couples Came to the U.S. to Be Married

Two gold wedding bands entwined together to form the outline of a heart; glittery lights in the background

Although there is a long journey and plenty of work ahead on the road to achieving freedom of choice in marriage in Israel, yesterday marked a step forward when Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C., hosted a Reform Jewish wedding under the chuppah (wedding canopy) for three Israeli couples:

  • Aviad and Tsion from Beer-Sheva have been together for eight years, but because they are a same-sex couple, they cannot legally marry in Israel. Now that they are married, they will continue their journey to build a family with a surrogate in Canada because surrogacy, too, is illegal for same-sex couples in Israel.
  • Anat and Shmuel were married in yesterday’s ceremony because the chief rabbinate, which controls legal mandate over Jewish weddings in Israel, doesn’t recognize Shmuel as Jewish. Despite his birth in Israel, service in the IDF, and living Jewishly for his entire life, when his mother died and he tried to arrange for her burial, the Israeli rabbinate informed Shmuel that they did not recognize her conversion – performed 30 years earlier in Romania – because she was hearing impaired, and the rabbinate doesn’t recognize conversions of people who are hearing impaired. As a result, she wasn’t buried in a Jewish cemetery and her children are not recognized as Jews. Nonetheless, Shmuel remains committed to Judaism and to building a Jewish home with his wife, Anat.
  • Sahar and Iliya have a longtime connection to the Reform Movement in Israel and are involved with Noar Telem, the Israeli Reform Youth Movement. Desiring a wedding reflective of their Judaism and their Jewish values, they, too, were married under a chuppah yesterday at Washington Hebrew Congregation.

All three couples traveled halfway across the globe to ensure that their marriages will be recognized as legal in Israel. What an irony! To be recognized as legally married in Israel, these Reform Jewish couples had to come to the U.S. for their weddings. The many people from Washington, D.C.’s Jewish community who stood with them as a new, extended family signed this statement urging the next Israeli prime minister to grant freedom of choice in marriage and divorce to all Israeli citizens:

To the Prime Minister of Israel:

There are 800,000 Israelis who are denied the basic right to marry. The current law requiring all Jewish marriages to go through the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate discriminates against women, Jews-by-choice, and non-Orthodox Jews and does not fit with Israel’s democratic values or nature.

Previous Israeli governments have denied freedom of choice in marriage, which has alienated many of Israel’s citizens. The new Israeli government has an opportunity to amend this historic injustice. We urge you, as you form a new government, to ensure that:

  • All citizens of the State of Israel be permitted to legally marry in their country according to their conscience and religious choice.
  • Weddings performed by Israeli Reform and Conservative rabbis be recognized by the State as a basic commitment to democracy and equality.
  • The State of Israel ends the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on issues of “Personal Status.”
  • All citizens of the State of Israel be granted the right to marry in a civil ceremony, outside a religious framework.

We show our support for these principles by standing together with Sahar Malka and Iliya Rabkin, Shmuel Carmel and Anat Ornik, and Aviad and Tsion Raz, three Israeli couples who are unwilling or unable to be united in Israel legally under the auspices of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate for three different reasons: a conversion that is not recognized in Israel, the rejection of the Rabbinate’s rigid control over Jewish marriage, and sexual orientation. We supported them as they stood under the chuppah and were married in Washington, D.C., and we share in the joy and blessing of the Jewish families they will build in Israel.

We urge you to promote equality for all Israelis in marriage and divorce, and we are eager to partner with and support you in that effort.  

Following the Israeli elections on April 9, we will deliver this message from Washington to the new prime minister of Israel in Jerusalem.

Siman tov u'mazel tov to all the wedding couples! May they know as much happiness and joy as they did on their wedding day and soon and in our day, may freedom of choice in marriage in Israel be the law of the land.

Visit the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) site to learn more about IRAC’s work to address issues of religion and state in Israel.

Rabbi Noa Sattath is the director of the Israel Religious Action Center.

Rabbi Noa Sattath
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