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A High-Profile Call for Marriage Equality in Israel

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

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The fight for marriage equality in Israel now features a catchy new video starring real-life couples that are unable to marry legally in Israel.

Celebrity power never hurts when it comes to calling attention to a political cause, and the newly premiered video has received media attention due to the participation of actress Hanni Furstenburg, actor Amir Faye Gutman and their respective partners. To the tune of “Hava Nagila,” they and other couples unsuccessfully attempt to celebrate — exchange rings, break a glass, embrace — within the confines of a tiny picture frame, illustrating the tight limitations of Israel’s existing marriage laws.

The video, shot by top fashion photographer Ron Kedmi, represents the opening salvo in a new and energetic campaign to change Israel’s conservative restrictions on marriage. A consortium of organizations is backing this campaign, including the New Israel Fund, the Reform movement in Israel and several human rights organizations. The consortium is actively promoting the introduction of a new law that would allow Israeli citizens to “Marry and divorce in Israel according to their choice, faith, and conscience.”

Currently, in the absence of any form of civil marriage, the only way in which Jews can marry in Israel is under the authorization of the stringent Orthodox rabbinate, after they have proven that both parties are halachically Jewish.

If a Jew wants to marry a non-Jew, a Cohen wants to marry a divorced woman, or, of course, if two Jews of the same gender wish to wed, they are out of luck. The only way for these “forbidden matches” to be recognized legally is if they take place abroad. And even if a couple weds overseas, if they divorce later, that divorce is not recognized unless a religious “get” is received.

Non-Orthodox religious Jewish marriages are not recognized; those Israelis who are married by Conservative or Reform rabbis must also marry overseas to make it legal. As Furstenburg said in a newspaper interview, “it is absurd that my husband and I must fly to Las Vegas and have an Elvis impersonator marry us in order to get legal recognition, while the hour-long meaningful ceremony performed by our Conservative rabbi means nothing.”

Muslims and Christians can only be married under their official religious auspices. One significant problematic group that is truly left out in the cold and are unable to marry legally at all is that made up of those that the government categorizes as having no official religion. They are immigrants from the former Soviet Union who immigrated to Israel under the law of return, serve in the army and are effectively part of the Jewish Israeli populations, yet are not halachically Jewish.

Over the next week, in the aftermath of the publicity from the video, activists are meeting across the country to launch a struggle that will take place in both the political and legal arenas. Whether all this effort results in actual change, remains to be seen.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Hanni Furstenberg, Civil Marriage, Amir Faye Gutman, Marriage

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