“Israel is doing a decent job of bringing people here but a terrible job of bringing these immigrants fully into the fold of the Jewish people. Because the only way to do that is to guarantee their full rights here in Israel and particularly to be married. And the only way to do that is to provide a system of conversion that would be accessible and traversable and unquestioned down the road. The Rabbinate is putting its head in the sand regarding a demographic time bomb for the people of Israel.”
There’s nothing original in this statement, except that it was made by an Orthodox rabbi, Seth Farber, on behalf of ITIM, an organization to help Israelis to deal with issues of personal status. Together with many other Orthodox rabbis Farber is trying to respond to the needs of immigrants whose Jewish status isn’t recognized by the ruling rabbinic authorities in Israel.
He’s a busy man. In 2018 alone of the 32,600 new Israelis, admitted under the Law of Return, 17,700 were not recognized as Jews by the ruling rabbinate. They joined some 400,000 other citizens who’re the victims of Israel’s immigration schizophrenia. While the state accepts them as Jews because they have at least one Jewish grandparent, the official rabbinate refuses to so regard them, which means that, for example, they’re not permitted to marry in Israel as there’s no civil marriage in the land.
The Reform movement has been addressing the issue for some time. It makes it possible and attractive for people to embrace Judaism formally in order to be married by a rabbi. Though the state registry, controlled by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate, may not recognize such marriages, some couples have also civil ceremonies abroad, which the state accepts, or they live in Israel as common law couples, which the state also allows. Unfortunately, however, non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel doesn’t (yet?) have the clout to make enough of a difference to bring about permanent change.
But a growing number of unaffiliated Israelis are so disgusted with the official rabbinate’s ways that they choose to be married by Reform rabbis, even though they’d be entitled to have a “recognized” Orthodox ceremony. Of late also more and more Orthodox rabbis, who by choice or circumstances aren’t on the official list of the rabbinate, officiate at marriages, even though these may not be accepted by the rabbinic establishment. I presume that Rabbi Farber and his colleagues are among the rebels.
What’s needed, however, isn’t people who skirt the law but a comprehensive solution that deprives the official rabbinate of its abuse of authority. It’s unacceptable that the state should admit people as Jews at the same time that it supports an agency that has their status as Jews denied.
Most of the 400,000 in that category come from Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states. After immigration from the former Soviet Union took off, Avigdor Lieberman formed a political party that sought to appeal primarily to these immigrants. He styled himself as an opponent of the oppressive measures that victimized many of his supporters. There’s little to suggest that he has been effective. It’s not even clear if the matter is still on his agenda. He now seems to have bigger fish to fry.
The leaders of the political parties who formed previous government coalitions have been more interested to placate the Orthodox establishment than to curb its abuse of citizens. As a result, a sizeable number of Israel’s Jewish citizens affected by the immigration schizophrenia see no remedy on the horizon, yet a remedy must be found for the sake of the integrity of the State of Israel.
Jerusalem 7.1.19 Dow Marmur