Op-Ed: Israeli Press: Marriage in the Jewish State
Translated from the Hebrew Makor Rishon by Rochel Sylvetsky
As a veteran consumer of political verbiage, I sometimes wonder what secular politicians mean when they dream aloud about "a Jewish and democratic state".
What are the Jewish parameters of the democracy that they envision for us within the pre-1967 borders? Is the state's Jewishness going to be in the spirit of Jewish tradition or is it going to be limited to getting 2 million Palestinian Arabs off the list of available workers?
In the light of the proposed legislation about civil marriage (and the drive to allow Reform and Conservative marriages in Israel), one gets the sneaking suspicion that those selfsame politicians are actually planning for a demographic definition of Judaism. They do not really want the values of "Yiddishkeit" (authentic Judaism) in the State of Israel to be strengthened, they simply want the Palestinian Arabs on the other side of the fence. To them, a Jewish state is one with the least possible number of Arabs, period.
Every citizen in that state should be allowed to marry as he wishes, at a lawyer's office if that is what he desires, public transportation should run on the Sabbath as if it were just another weekday, the budget allocations for the Torah world should be the same as those for the world of local movie production, the Chief Rabbi should be a Reform "Rabba" (woman) and once Israel has seceded from the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Israel is to become the Tel Aviv Museum.
Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) did promise a week ago that in Israel there will never be a separation between religion and state, but at the same time emitted a clarion call announcing his plan for expanding the legal parameters of marital union. How do those things exist together? They don't. Israel will cease to be a Jewish state if marriages here move from the traditional wedding canopy ceremony to the Interior Ministry. Israel will become a nation like all other nations when the institution of the family is privatized and open to the personal definition of each couple.
David Ben Gurion loved rabbis just about as much as Yair Lapid loves them, and played a part in institutionalizing democracy here at least as much as former Chief Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak did, but understood that in a Jewish democratic state, one cannot turn Judaism into a caricature of itself.
Contrary to what is generally thought, he did not give in to religious pressure when he allowed only Orthodox halakhic marriages (or Christian or Moslem ones) to be legal in the state of Israel, he served the ideals of Zionism.
When an Arab college student once asked Ben Gurion how a totally secular person like the prime minister could lean on the Tanakh (Old Testament) Covenant to prove Israel's rights to the Land of Israel, Ben Gurion pointed out the religious legislation in Israel as proof of its relevance to the People of Israel. Although he admitted that he himself was not a God-fearing person, he asserted that "in Israel, everyone keeps the Orthodox halakhot of marriage and divorce." (Conversion was not an issue relevant at that time, ed.)
In other words, Israel's first prime minister understood that faithfulness to the ancient laws of marriage is one of the foundation stones of the Zionist idea. If we start marrying according to new laws, we will not be able to lean on the Bible for our historical connection to this tiny land. The Arabs will say that there is no connection between the Jews who live here now and the Jews who inhabited the area and were indigenous to it in the past. The Jews of old married according to the laws given to Moses and the people of Israel, but the new Jews marry according to the laws of Lapid and Yechimovich.
Of course, that doesn't mean discarding out of hand any suggestion for arranging a form of marriage for those who cannot wed according to halakha. Some of the suggestions are worthy of careful scrutiny by the religious parties. But the burning desire of the secular parties to achieve symmetry between the institution of halakhic marriage and civil marriage undermines the very character of the Jewish (and of course democratic) state that they rant about from morning to night as part of their vision of a retreat to pre-1967 lines.
Ben Gurion himself may not have married halakhically, but he understood that there is a vast difference between an individual's non-adherence to halakha in his private life and the turning of civil marriages into a legal option.
In a halakhic wedding, Jews are wedded to Judaism as well as to one another, in a civil marriage they are divorced from it.