The Jews certainly have a reason to be proud of the religion and culture they developed. I love Judaism, its healthy approach to life, its rationalism, the sanctity of individual and collective freedom, the Halacha’s dynamism, and the holidays. However, if we want to ensure our children do not turn their backs on it and view it as an oppressive force, we must rebel against the imposition that turns it into the state religion that dominates our lives.
Upon the state’s establishment, Ben-Gurion decided to unite religion and state. This may have been appropriate for that period. It is even possible that this decision was required in order to avert the alienation of the religious Zionist camp. However, the time has come to build a new platform for the relations between religion and state. The Orthodox establishment no longer has a monopoly over Judaism here and abroad. Its competitors – the Conservative and Reform camps, as well as secularism as an ideological position – enjoy growing strength, mostly among American and European Jewry, but also in Israel.
Moreover, the whole world has changed. Religion has lost its leading position in relations between people. The notions of interfaith marriages, of marriages involving various sects and ethnicities within the same religion, and of personal choice regarding the type or essence of wedding ceremonies are currently accepted by every progressive country worldwide.
The ongoing domination of the Rabbinate in our lives constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights, and the State’s willingness to accept the Rabbinate’s impositions regarding who can marry, and how, contradicts every democratic principle. It is no secret that the rabbinical establishment secures this aim via the religious parties, which sell their political power in exchange for recognition of old impositions. Therefore, the only way to beat this trap and force the politicians to change the law is a consumer boycott, and on this front almost all of us are consumers – when it comes to marriage, divorce, registering our children, etc.
Anyone who has the wellbeing of the State and its citizens in mind must rebel against the Rabbinate and refuse to conduct his or her family affairs via its registrar until it recognizes the right of every citizen in the country to marry any way he or she see fit – in an Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Buddhist, or wholly secular ceremony. Only then, once the religious establishment realizes it may lose its control over the entire system managing our personal lives, including the people who are interested in the Rabbinate’s blessing, things would change. Let’s deviate this time from our obedient manner and rebel. We are not talking about a violet move, but rather, about a peaceful rebellion: We shall not cooperate and won’t approach the Rabbinate until the situation changes.
Not the State’s jobThose who still value the rabbinical stamp of approval but nonetheless believe in democracy shall do it just in order to stimulate the change. Those who feel that they will remain Jewish even if the Chief Rabbinate does not etch this into their skin would be able to marry any way they wish in the future and register as married at city hall.
Many will wonder how Israel can be safeguarded as a Jewish State should the question of marriage be taken out of the hands of the Rabbinate. The clear answer is that at this time already it is not the Rabbinate that is in charge of safeguarding the State’s Jewishness.
Every year, Israel allows many people whose Jewishness is dubious into the country in line with the Law of Return; they are Jewish only because their grandfather or grandmother were Jewish, or because they married Jews. All of them view themselves as Jewish, even though the Rabbinate does not recognize them as Jewish. It is precisely a declaration on the approval of civil marriages that would attract to Israel many Jews who are currently concerned about arriving here because their partners are not Jewish, or because they see the State as a theocracy.
Civil marriages will in fact strengthen the Jewish public, even if at the price of weakening the exclusive ink to rabbinical Orthodoxy. And if rabbinical Orthodoxy is bothered by the trend of pluralism and fears for its purity (and justifiably so, from its point of view,) it should go ahead and manage its own registry. This is not the State’s job.
Prof. Dror Ze'evi, the Department for Middle Eastern Studies, Ben-Gurion University