Last week, a lot of folks asked me if it was true that Israel refused to allow two fully Jewish, Messianic Jewish Israelis to get married because of their faith. There was a news report out of the Jerusalem Post that mentioned the two went to our congregation, Tiferet Yeshua.
Is it true?
It is absolutely true that it happened and they were given the opportunity to deny their faith.
“They noted, however, that if the couple were to accept upon themselves the principles of Jewish faith, including the belief in one God and Maimonides’s 13 Principles of Faith, declare in front of the rabbinical court that they have totally left Christianity, end their association with Tiferet Yeshua and their missionary activities and immerse in a mikve ritual bath, their request would be reexamined.” (JPost.com)
Fortunately, they refused. And it is an outrage that two fully Jewish, Israel-born people are denied the right to get married in their own country—one that was birthed to prevent the persecution of Jews, not enhance it.
So, why did I say, “Yes…and no.”? Because we are not the only group persecuted this way. You have to understand the archaic marriage system here in Israel. The chief rabbinical council, known as the rabanut in Hebrew, control all marriages in Israel. So…
- If you don’t have a Jewish mother…no wedding for you.
- If you marry a foreigner…no wedding for you.
- If you are a man and want to marry a man…no wedding for you. (Despite the fact that Israel is one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, gay marriage will probably never become legal here because of the rabanut. [I do not support gay marriage, just reporting the fact of how the rabbis, not the government control these issues.])
- If you made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from Russia but can’t prove you are Jewish…no wedding for you.
The rabbis will only marry fully Jewish people—and for them, that means your mother is Jewish. And now, if you believe like tens of thousands of first-century Jews believed (Acts 21:20), that Yeshua is the Messiah, you have, according to the rababut, left Judaism and … no wedding for you.
However, having lived here for 14 years, I have been to many weddings, all done by Orthodox rabbis where the folks getting married were clearly Messianic. It wasn’t an issue. But I guess, this time, it became an issue and the Chief Rabbinical council ruled, with great difficulty according to the Jerusalem Post article, against the Messianic Jewish couple.
“The complexity of the case required the involvement of the deputy president of the court together with two senior rabbinical judges, who themselves brought in a researcher and expert in Christianity and missionary groups, as well as questioning the couple themselves.” (JPost.com)
So Just Go to the Justice of the Peace
There is no justice and no peace in this situation. There is no such thing as a civil wedding here in the Promised Land, only religious ones. But it doesn’t mean you can’t get married. I know dozens of people where one of them was Jewish and other wasn’t or their mother was not Jewish, who have taken the 60-minute flight to Cyprus to get married and when they return, that marriage is recognized by the government.
Are Israelis for this?
Seventy percent of Israelis support same-sex marriage, and even more than that think the idea that you can’t have a civil marriage in Israel is just stupid. Politicians have sought to get this reversed.
“A bill proposed by Yesh Atid party MK, Aliza Lavie, that would have instituted civil marriage, including for gays, was voted down in the Knesset plenum … by an 11-vote margin, with 39 for and 50 against.” (timesofisrael.com)
So, why do we have such an archaic system? And why don’t we change it?
Where did it come from?
Under Ottoman rule, every religious community oversaw weddings for their own people. You have a Jewish, Muslim, Druze and Eastern Orthodox (Catholic) authority. This system not only survived British rule from 1917 to 1948, but also was adopted by the state of Israel. In fact, because it was the British themselves that performed weddings for Protestants and they left in 1948, there is no legal way for two Protestants to get married in Israel today!
“One signal that this may be more lacuna than conscious marginalization lies in the stark fact that no Protestants can marry in Israel either, not even each other; under British rule, Protestants married through British mandatory institutions, and a separate Israeli Protestant Christian hierarchy was never established.” (timesofIsrael.com)
Protestant marriages are decided on case by case basis. According to the US Embassy in Israel:
“The minister who plans to perform the ceremony writes to the Ministry for Religious Affairs, setting forth the names of the persons to be married, their nationality, and their religious affiliation. He requests the Ministry’s permission to perform the marriage and to issue a marriage certificate.”
Why no change?
It is very simple…and complex. The Orthodox parties in our Knesset (Parliament) represent a small minority in the nation, but because it is so difficult to form a coalition, the would-be prime minister is forced to make great concessions to them, to get him over the 60-seat threshold. In our government, there are normally about a dozen political parties (I know this is hard for Americans to understand). No single party has ever won more than 50% and the largest party (normally with about 25%-30% of the vote) has to compromise to get other parties to join their coalition.
The Orthodox parties demand a steep price. They don’t have to serve in the army. Most don’t work, but live off my taxes (so they can study and pray all day) and charity. They demand funding for their schools and other projects.
As common as the Lunar Eclipse!
A few years ago, we had only the second government in our short history with no Orthodox parties. We quickly passed laws making army service mandatory, stopped the welfare state-system off of which they were living, and forced religious schools to teach math and science, not just religion. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu found it hard to govern without the rubber stamp of the Orthodox parties that he (and most other prime ministers before him) had basically paid off. So, he dissolved his government, called for new elections and formed a new government with the Orthodox. The new laws were reversed.
On the one hand, it does make it hard to govern if your hands are tied as the prime minister—if your every decision is challenged by your cabinet. You can’t be a Prime Minister if there are constant threats from other parties to bring the government down. On the other hand, it is absolutely criminal that a small group of people gets to make sweeping decisions that cost hundreds of millions of shekels…and denies the right of marriage in Israel to a large segment of our population.
So, yes, a dear sweet Messianic Jewish Israeli couple has been denied their God-given right to marry here in Israel. But they are not alone. In the meantime, the couple would ask you to keep them in prayer, that they would have wisdom and know God’s will as they move forward.
This article originally appeared on Messiah’s Mandate, September 4, 2017, and reposted with permission.
This article was updated on September 8, 2017.