By: Isabelle Mokotoff
Time and time again, Israel has been recognized as a land of abundant irony. It has ancient roots yet its statehood is in its infancy. It is a land that was deemed infertile yet Israelis utilized their chutzpah (strong wills) and, in the face of doubt and adversity, turned a desert into arable land. Israel is world-renown for being a land of unexpected triumphs and miracles. Yet, the simple assumption that all Israeli citizens should be able to enjoy their full rights (especially having labeled themselves as a safe-haven for all people) is incorrect; many are deprived of their right to marry the person who they love. The hypocritical nature of the country often proves infuriating as many hold Israel to a high standard.
Alexander Skudalo is citizen enough to fight in the IDF – the Israeli Defense Forces. However, if Skudalo wished to marry his longtime girlfriend with whom he has a baby, the new status of the relationship would not be legally recognized. This is because, even though Skudalo considers himself Jewish, the Israeli government views him as Christain (because his mother was Christian and Alexander did not undergo approved conversion). In Israel, interfaith marriage is illegal. In addition, any lesbian or gay couple wishing to live married in Israel must first leave the country to have the ceremony performed. The reason why this double standard is in existence: marriages can only be performed by the heads of religious communities to which both parties of the couple belong. Although many people consider themselves Jewish, through the eyes of the rabbinate (the supreme Jewish religious governing body in the state of Israel), a large portion is not recognized as belonging to the religion with which they identify. And unfortunately, Halachic laws (the set of religious guidelines which govern the lives of the rabbinate, and subsequently, the lives of Jews in Israel) prohibit any marriage between people of different religions or between a same-sex couple.
It is important to note that while Halachic laws are part of the Jewish faith, not all Jews follow these writings verbatim. Instead, many sects of Judaism only follow the laws which are applicable in the modern day and are truly considered something that betters the world. In Israel, part of its Orthodox (the Modern variation) and all of its Traditional-Religious, Traditional and Secular Jewish populations agree that at least some portion of Halachic laws should be left up to personal interpretation and debate. To give a perspective statistically, that is at least 80% of the total Jewish Israeli population (Elazar 1). And yet, the small minority of strictly-observant people are controlling the lives of the remaining Jewish population. In addition, this effects the 20.6% of Israelis who are Arab and the 4.1% of Israelis who are minority groups and wish to marry a person of the Jewish faith. This system is neither fair nor representative. While the ultra-Orthodox have a right to their beliefs, many feel that such a small minority should not be able to impose their lifestyle over the entire country. It is indisputable that Israel has declared itself a Jewish state and that those who follow Halachic laws should be able to do so, however, Israel is not a nation-state and is home to a diverse population. Being such, Israel should cater to the needs of all of its inhabitants, not just a select group.
Not only should Israel live up to its title of a homeland for all Jewish people, but it should also be a non-restrictive country for its residents who are not Jewish. By modifying the authority of the Rabbinate, Israel can flourish and become a model of equality in the Middle East.
Elazar, Daniel J. “How Religious Are Israeli Jews?” “To Secure the Blessings of Liberty”: Liberty and American Federal Democracy, 2016, www.jcpa.org/dje/articles2/howrelisr.htm.
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attend a meeting of the Rabbinate Council in Jerusalem. Times of Israel. 4 Nov 2013. https://www.Timesof israel.com/chief-rabbinate-says-list-of-rabbis-not-a-blacklist/
Interfaith Couple. Times of Israel. 8 Aug. 2015. https://www.timesofisrael.com/chief-rabbinate -says-list-of-rabbis-not-a-blacklist/