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Shine a Light: Advancing Progressive Values in Israel this Hanukkah. Night 4—Marriage

About The Author

Chelsea Feuchs

Chelsea Feuchs is the Communications and Social Media Associate for ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. After studying for a year in Israel as a Dorot Fellow, she now works and lives in New York City.

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This Hanukkah, ARZA is working to shine a light on several challenges facing progressive Judaism in Israel. We do so with the intention to generate greater understanding, to increase the investment of Reform Jews in the Jewish State, and to center a connection to Israel in our communities. Each night for eight nights, check in with us to learn more about pressing issues and to advocate for equality, pluralism, and democracy in Israel.

 

Let’s face it, the meaning of Hanukkah can easily be obscured by the stress of holiday shopping. Between buying presents, hiding them in the closet, futzing with the wrapping paper and ribbon, it can feel like time together comes second to consumerism. Interestingly in Israel, many children born during this month of Kislev are given the name Matan, connected to the Hebrew word for present. Perhaps this fact can help us redefine how we think of the word “present” to focus more on how each person in our life is a gift than on material objects. On this fourth night of Hanukkah, let’s take a moment to recognize and celebrate the true gifts of love and family.

While there are countless beautiful and unique ways to show love and form a family, many people find marriage to be a meaningful way to express these values. Ideally, a wedding should reflect the couple at the center, uniting in a way that feels honest and authentic. At a Jewish wedding, the rabbi usually has a relationship with the couple and can speak of their commitment to each other. Whether the couple is gay or straight, non-binary, transgender, born Jewish or Jews by choice, observant or more secular, Reform rabbis strive to honor and celebrate each union through a meaningful ceremony.

This is the kind of treatment that every Jew should be able to expect, but sadly it is uncommon in the Jewish State. Israel does not permit civil marriage, and religious marriage among Jews can only be performed under the auspices of the ultra-Orthodox Rabbanut. This body will only allow its rabbis to perform heterosexual marriages between two people with government-confirmed Jewish status. Many people face legal challenges to their religious status by the Rabbanut when they apply for a marriage license, a form of discrimination faced primarily by non-Orthodox Jews by choice and their descendants, as well as Jews from the former Soviet Union.

Couples that are approved by the Rabbanut are assigned a rabbi to conduct their ceremony, but the experience is less than ideal. For non-Haredi folks, someone who they do not know and who does not approve of their lifestyle comes to the ceremony to impose his religious standards. Egalitarian couples will not find their values reflected in this ceremony, which leaves little room for the bride’s participation. Those who try to defy this monopoly and hold a wedding in Israel outside of the Rabbanut face jailtime. For these reasons, many opt to hold their wedding abroad and skip the headache. Others are compelled to participate in a system they fundamentally oppose in order to have family and friends present at the ceremony. This system leaves many Israelis with negative feelings on a day that should be filled with joy.

It is time to check the power of the Rabbanut and to insist that other streams of Judaism be granted legitimacy in the Jewish State. Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox Jews deserve to have their rabbis conduct this important ceremony, to welcome their newly-formed household into the Jewish community with love. Marriage in Israel should be a celebration in the fullest sense of the word. This Hanukkah we raise up the gifts of love and family, and we work to honor those gifts under a huppah large enough for all of bnei Yisrael.