Israeli Pluralistic Jewish Public Wedding Protests Denial of Right to Marry

29 July 2010 By New Israel Fund

Hundreds of "wedding guests" came to the Tel Aviv cinematheque plaza on Sunday evening, the Israeli Valentine’s Day counterpart festival of Tu B’Av, to celebrate the wedding of Yulia Tagil and Stas Granin.

Many of the guests were friends and family of the Russian-speaking immigrant couple. But most of those present were protesting the Orthodox monopoly on Jewish marriage. In Israel, the only way to have a legally recognized wedding is to have an Orthodox ceremony, and the only way to have an Orthodox ceremony is to meet the ever-harsher requirements of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate. Yulia and Stas chose a public ceremony in Tel Aviv to help raise awareness about the need for a civil marriage alternative in Israel.

The religious monopoly on marriage has particularly harsh consequences for the nearly 350,000 Israelis, mainly new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who have no legal entitlement to marry in Israel because they are unable to prove their Jewish status to the rabbinate, or are Jewish on their fathers’ side.  Denied the basic right to marry or full status as Jewish citizens, couples like Yulia and Stas face humiliating investigations into their background when applying for a marriage license, and if denied Jewish status must travel abroad to legally marry.

A tearful Yulia standing on the red carpet which led up to the chupah said, “This is the happiest day of my life.  This is the Jewish wedding that I have always dreamed about.  But the Israeli government will not recognize this wedding and at great expense, which we cannot really afford, we plan on traveling abroad to Prague for a civil ceremony so that we will be recognized as man and wife in Israel.”

The public wedding was organized and funded by NIF together with grantees Havaya – Israel Wedding, which arranges pluralist Jewish ceremonies, Fishka Club,a social club for Russian speaking new immigrants, and Bina: Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture.

Stas, 28, immigrated to Israel from Moscow in 1990 and works in high-tech.  He said, “The rabbis ask us to provide documentation and a family history and it simply is not possible to give such proof because of the circumstances in the Soviet Union.”

He adds bitterly, “We are Jewish enough to serve in the army, pay taxes, and fulfill our civil obligations but we are not Jewish enough to get married here.”

Yulia, 29, immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1994.  She works in theater and cinema as an actress and costume designer.  She explained, “Why do I have to start proving I’m Jewish, when I see myself Jewish in every way.  It is humiliating.  We are a man and a woman.  Citizens of the State of Israel that want to get married and raise a family.  That’s not good enough for us to marry?”

The couple met online and have been living together for several years.  They have a 7 month old daughter who was under the chupah with them.

The wedding ceremony itself was very close in format to an Orthodox wedding with a chupah, seven blessings and the breaking of the glass.  However, there was an emphasis on gender equality in contrast to the traditional ceremony where the groom signs a contract with the bride’s father.

Motti Zeira of Havya, who officiated at the wedding, linked the ceremony to the traditional Jewish festival of Tu B’Av.  Standing under the chupah he told the couple, “Tonight is just like in biblical times when on Tu B’Av, the start of the grape harvest, the young women would dress in white and be courted by the young men.  Tonight we have our bride dressed in white and her young man.”

The fifth blessing was recited by Jay Shofet, Director of SHATIL’s Pluralism Project.  After the ceremony he explained, “For more than a decade NIF and SHATIL have been working for religious pluralism so that all Jews can behave according to their conscience and can convert, be married and buried as they choose.”

Shofet observed that some 25 percent of Israelis now boycott legally recognized Orthodox ceremonies  when arranging their weddings, including more and more people who would have the right to marry in an Orthodox ceremony.  In an effort to end the current monopoly, NIF funds the Forum for Freedom of Choice in Marriage, a coalition of 16 organizations which strives for religious freedom in Israel.

On the morning of Yulia and Stas’ wedding there was a major victory for NIF’s campaign for pluralism when Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the postponement of consideration of a law that would formalize exclusive Orthodox control over conversion and Jewish identity.

In Tel Aviv, live music and entertainment kept the wedding guests dancing deep into the night. Yulia said, “We wanted a Jewish wedding but we also wanted to make this protest so we can help others end the humiliating status quo.”

The event was covered extensively by the Israeli media including this article in the Jerusalem Post.

Click on the videos below to see the wedding preparations and the wedding itself:

Meet Julia and Stas

Meeting with the Leader of the Ceremony

Final Preparations

The Wedding