Israelis should be more inclusive toward Jewish religion

Cliff Savren, who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Israel, writes about the hostility toward Jewish religion that some Israelis feel.

Whether you agree or disagree with last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States, it was clearly momentous. I, for one, welcome the result.

The decision was widely covered in Israel, and prompted many Israelis to ask when the same change will happen here. Recognition of gay marriages performed abroad already exists in Israel, but as with a lot of things here, the situation is complicated by politics, history and religion.

Israeli same-sex couples that marry abroad in places where it is legal can register as a couple with the Israeli Interior Ministry, but they can’t get married here. That is because of the Turks. Until the end of World War I, the Turks, then known as the Ottomans, ruled this part of the world, and they gave each religious community autonomy on matters of marriage and divorce, meaning that Jews, Christians and Muslims got married and divorced through their own communities’ religious courts.

Jews were served by rabbinical courts, which were Orthodox, and naturally so. Reform and Conservative Judaism didn’t exist at the time and remain a largely North American phenomenon to this day.

The system is still in place even though a major proportion of Israelis, probably about half, are entirely secular. Two Jews can only marry in Israel through the rabbinate and since Jewish religious law defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman, there is no legal mechanism through which same-sex couples can marry here. In a sense gay marriage in Israel is a hostage to the absence of civil marriage in general and the power of the Orthodox rabbinate in the limited areas of Israeli life where it holds sway – marriage, divorce, burial, kashrut supervision and conversion.

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