One of the many contradictions I carry with me daily is that on the one hand, I am a believer in the rule of law, and on the other hand, my favorite Disney movie has always been Robin Hood. Even as a young child, I had no problem understanding why Robin Hood would flout the law when the law was so clearly unjust and harmful to the people.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve been hesitant to take on the role of Robin Hood, and needless to say, I have not been robbing the government in order to redistribute taxes as I see is fair.
That said, there is one area in which I and my colleagues regularly break the law in Israel: whenever I officiate a wedding in Israel, I am committing a crime—
one that carries with it a possible penalty of two years in prison. The same threat of punishment is also faced by couples who choose an independent Jewish marriage ceremony.
Israel, in a holdover from the Ottoman rule that ended in 1917, permits marriage registration only through religious authorities. All Jewish couples, therefore, must go to a representative of the Chief Rabbinate in order to receive a license to wed, and the officiant must himself (as it is always a man according to the Rabbinate’s view of Jewish law) be either a member of said Rabbinate or receive a special one-time authorization.
Needless to say, the criteria for receiving that authorization prohibit any Masorti/Conservative rabbi from fitting the bill.
Couples turn to me to officiate their weddings for a variety of reasons. Some of them simply because they know and like me, and prefer to have their wedding officiated by a rabbi with whom they have a personal relationship. Some because they like the process of how we learn about the Jewish ceremony and build it together, making sure that the two members of the couple are active participants in their own wedding. And some turn to me because they are denied the right to marry through the Chief Rabbinate, perhaps because they are a same-sex couple, or because the rabbinate doesn’t recognize a conversion of theirs or their mothers (which is the case for every Conservative-overseen conversion).
In cases where the couple is willing to either get married abroad and register their foreign marriage in Israel or to remain common-law married, we can create an unofficial Jewish wedding. But, if an Israeli Jewish couple wants their one Jewish wedding to be at home in Israel, but not under the rigid control of the Chief Rabbinate, they can come to me. And if the couple has no legal option to get married in Israel anyway, and want a Jewish wedding, they have no choice but to turn to somebody like me who works outside of the Chief Rabbinate.
It’s worth remembering that while marriage is a legal status that brings benefits from the state, a wedding is a ceremony where a couple affirms their commitment to one another before themselves, God, and their society. By forcing all Jews to go through the Chief Rabbinate, with its particular understanding of Jewish law, Israel is forcing its citizens to accept a particular understanding of Orthodoxy (which is not even accepted by all Orthodox Jews!) in this sacred moment.
The basic religious freedom for a person to determine how they practice their own Judaism is legally denied in the realm of marriage in Israel, but I as a Masorti rabbi, along with colleagues in the Masorti and Reform movements, in movements that promote separation of religion and state, and even some Orthodox rabbis, are working hard to make sure that two people can get married in a way that puts them — and their Judaism — in the center. In so doing, we are giving more couples the dignity to get married as they choose in the country they call home; we are allowing women to be treated as equals under the huppah (for the bride, for family and friends and also for women rabbis whom we believe must be allowed to officiate); we allow same-sex couples to have a meaningful religious ceremony to which they can invite their family and friends; and we are allowed to employ a variety of halachic acts that will prevent a woman down the line from becoming an agunah, a chained woman who cannot be freed from her marriage.
It is my sincerest hope that we will soon see a break of the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate over a person’s ability to get married how they please, and sometimes even at all. Until then, I’m proud to play the role of a Robin Hood Rabbi and help the many couples that “vote with their rings” and choose to get married their way, with or without the approval of the State.
Rabbi Arie Hasit lives in Maskeret Batya, where he serves as the rabbi of the Masorti-affiliated Minyan Shivioni and teaches in various capacities throughout the town-wide community. He serves on the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel and the Youth Committee of the Masorti Movement, and sees his mission as bringing relevant and accessible Judaism to as wide a population as possible.Rabbi Arie Hasit, Kehillat Maskeret Batya