Cross-posted to the Times of Israel.
Though it is not a new dilemma, the issue of same-sex marriage took
on became a larger topic of public conversation just this week, in the
wake of President Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage.
dilemma had taken a personal dimension just a few weeks earlier, when I
was invited to the same-sex wedding of two former students.
torn, but ultimately feel the same way about this that I feel about
civil unions in general in Israel: while I am against them personally
and religiously, I believe that the state should not impose specific
religious values on individuals.
Jewish law, halakha, does
not recognize intermarriage or same-sex marriage, and views sexual
relationships between Jews and non-Jews and between members of the same
sex as forbidden, even sinful.
In Israel, religious bodies (not
just Jewish ones) have controlled marriage, divorce, and by extension
have established the boundaries of their religious communities since the
Ottoman Period. It is an anomaly in a secular state apparatus (though
there are still some in the Rav ZY Kook camp who imbue the state apparatus itself with religious significance).
Yet although this has been the state of affairs here for centuries, there are many reasons for even halakha-observant
Israelis to oppose state enforcement of these halakhic
considerations.In fact, whether separation of religion and state is
conceived as protection of religion from the state or the individual
from religion, exclusive religious control of marriage should be
With regard to the protection of the individual from
the state, it goes without saying that the current system of religious
control violates individual rights. In 1964, the United Nations adopted a
convention on marriage
that recognizes marriage as a human right. Since Israel upholds human
rights and even enshrines them in its Basic Laws, the fact that the
right to marry and found a family is not universally applied is deeply
The other side of the religion-state coin - the
protection of religion from state - offers an even more compelling case
for changing the system. As a result of the rabbinate's intimate
involvement with this aspect of state functioning, it has become a wholly political entity, and has resulted in a situation in which conversion to Judaism - a purely halakhic issue - is subject to broad political debate and legislation.
The absurdity of a secular state getting involved in the business of
religious conversion could end tomorrow if there were a civil marriage
option that allowed halakhic Jews and halakhic non-Jews (who often are
equally Jewish in terms of background and culture) to wed.
by insisting on holding onto a very thin slice of governmental power,
the rabbinate dooms itself to a much more profound irrelevance and
contempt. By winning the marriage battle, they lose the much broader war
for the hearts and minds of Jews. Installing a civil option will,
hopefully, help rehabilitate the image and restore the relevance of halakha to broader Jewish life in Israel.
marriage falls under the same rubric: it is increasingly acknowledged
as being worthy of protection as a human right, like all marriage, and
once a marriage option that functions independently of religion is
established, there would be no reason to exclude same-sex unions from
I hope one day to marry off all of my children by means of huppah ve-kiddushin,
according to the law of Moses and Israel. But the task of educating
children about the importance of these values belongs to parents and communities, not