The Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel

It only took a few hours: first, the nation-state bill was signed; then, a Conservative rabbi was detained by police

My mobile rings, I answer. The voice on the other end: “Hi, is that Rabbi Goldstein? My fiancée and I would like you to officiate out our wedding.” The conversation continues. I make sure we’re talking about two Jews. I get a bit of background.

When I ask the couple why they are not getting married through the state Orthodox rabbinate, I get various answers, such as: “My foot will never step inside the Rabbinate,” or “We want a halakhic wedding that also respects the bride,” or “We’re looking for a rabbi who we can connect with,” or that one of the couple “is from the former Soviet Union and the Rabbinate is asking us for proof of Judaism that is impossible to provide.”

Many couples who approach a Masorti rabbi to officiate at their wedding are looking for an authentic, Jewish ceremony — often also knowing that our ceremonies meet all the requirements of halakhah (Jewish law). They find the Chief Rabbinate of Israel at best irrelevant, and at worst repellent.

A 2017 survey found that 55 percent of Israelis believed that civil and non-Orthodox weddings should be available to all who want them. Around 3,000 couples a year decide to wed outside the Rabbinate — in non-state-recognized religious or civil ceremonies in Israel, or in civil ceremonies abroad. There are hundreds, if not thousands, more who decide simply not to tie the knot officially, but live together and set up their families.

Masorti and other rabbis have been performing religious wedding ceremonies in Israel for tens of years. While the Rabbinate condemns these rabbis and their weddings, until now they have done little, if anything, about it. In 2013, after Modern Orthodox rabbis of the Tzohar movement threatened to start officiating outside the confines of the Rabbinate, the religious parties pushed for a change in the law, which already forbade Jewish weddings outside of the Rabbinate. Since the amendment, the law has carried a penalty of up to two years imprisonment for rabbis who officiate and couples who get married in a religious ceremony outside the Rabbinate.

Thursday, at about 3 a.m., the Knesset voted on the contentious nation-state bill, which aims to curtail the rights of various minorities, including Jewish religious minorities. Just two-and-a-half hours later, Rabbi Dov Haiyun, a Masorti rabbi in Haifa, was detained for questioning for officiating at a wedding outside the Rabbinate — detained at the behest of the Haifa rabbinate.

A thick black line connects the divisive nation-state bill and Rabbi Haiyun’s questioning. The bill gives power to those presently in government and enables them penalize those who do not agree with them. It allows for discrimination against minorities in Israel and for the inequitable division of state funds. It provided for the Rabbinate to instruct the police to detain a Masorti rabbi, because he does not follow their particular interpretation of Judaism — the first time, in fact, that the law regarding marriages has been acted upon, just a few hours after the passing of the nation-state bill. That says it all: not only is the country Jewish, but specifically Orthodox.

One of the most absurd outcomes of this fiasco is that, on the one hand, the Rabbinate has recognized Rabbi Haiyun’s wedding ceremony as religiously binding, and therefore an offense. On the other hand, the Rabbinate refuses to register this halakhically acceptable ceremony. They cannot have it both ways! Either it is a recognized, halakhic wedding, or it was just a civil ceremony with no religious meaning. If the latter, then the Rabbinate has no jurisdiction in this matter.

At the root of the issue is the fact that the state is insisting that it has authority over people’s religious views and practices. The state is saying that if you want a Jewish wedding, it has to be our way or the highway. If you are Jewish, you have to be Orthodox. If you want a Jewish wedding, it has to be officiated by an Orthodox rabbi — and then, only one who is approved by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate.

The State of Israel is the only country in the Western world in which a Jew is not at liberty to decide how to practice his or her Judaism. If you want to get married — it has to be Orthodox. You want to get buried in a public cemetery — Orthodox. Education in schools — Orthodox. Kashrut — Orthodox. The Western Wall — Orthodox. And so the list goes on.

Thursday’s illegal detention of Rabbi Haiyun should set off blazing red lights across the Jewish world. Israel cannot claim to be the home of the Jewish people (as the nation-state bill claims) if it does not allow non-Orthodox Jews to practice their Judaism according to their customs. Israel cannot claim to be a light unto the nations if it officially discriminates against its own minorities.

As we approach the fast of Tisha B’Av, on which we recall the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, let us not forget the principle reason for the destruction of the latter: baseless hatred. In those last years of the Second Temple, the Jewish community was at such discord that internal strife led to the destruction more than the Roman attackers did.

Let us ensure that such a catastrophe does not repeat itself.

Rabbi Mikie Goldstein is the president of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel and rabbi of Kehillat Adat Shalom-Emanuel in Rehovot.

This blog post originally appeared on July 20, 2018 in the Times of Israel.