My nephew, Kevin, got married a few weeks ago in a picture-book English wedding. A beautiful rural location near Oxford, magnificent summer weather, confetti, croquet, Pimms and a rare reunion of the family, which is spread out all over the place. The sort of occasion that makes one happy to be alive.
Not a unique event in itself, but a very special one for our family. Special also for those of us – Israelis, I mean – for whom such an event is unthinkable within the borders of the Jewish state.
For one thing, Kevin ad his wife Jo were born into different religions, yet they didn’t have to sneak off to Cyprus to get married on the sly. They were able to marry, legally and officially, in a country that doesn’t claim to have the right to sniff around in people’s private lives. That’s what happens when there’s a separation between religion and state.
Then there’s the question of God – who simply wasn’t there. An entire wedding ceremony without even one mention of a deity of any sort. You wouldn’t find that in Israel.
And no rabbi or priest either. Instead, the honors were done by a pleasant gent in a light, summer suit who goes by the title of registrar, I believe. No liturgy, no prayers, no calling down of divine benedictions or any other sort of religious mumbo-jumbo. Just a simple, down-to-earth ceremony, with a few secular texts recited by relatives of the bridal couple and the required legal formalities.
A heartfelt, unpretentious ceremony befitting a young couple who wanted their marriage to be meaningful to their lives in the here-and-now, rather than dictated by petrified traditions to which neither of them adheres.
And I’m pretty sure there was no grubby man in a long black coat and funny hat skulking around the kitchen to make sure that it abided by mandatory dietary regulations. In a normal country, what and how people eat is not the preserve of the state or its rabbinical enforcers. Guests were asked beforehand to mention any dietary requirements and that was the end of that.
All this probably sounds pretty bizarre to those of you who don’t live in a budding theocracy. After all, what is unusual about people getting married in a ceremony that reflects who they are, rather than being force-fed unintelligible rubbish in Aramaic by a rabbinical hack whose job it is to make their big day as meaningless as possible?
What’s unusual is that it can’t happen in Israel.
In Israel, you either do it the rabbinical way or you don’t get married. There are no other options.
Why, in modern and supposedly unconventional Israel – the celebrated start-up nation – do we allow ourselves to be dictated to by a bunch of fossilized zealots, who dress like 18th century Poles and whose collective mindset has as much to do with contemporary life as chastity belts? Why do we allow these mediocre anachronisms to rummage around in our lives, tell us who we can and can’t marry and waste our taxes on a gigantic – and totally unnecessary – rabbinical cartel, which is little more than a legalized organized crime syndicate.
I don’t have an answer. I know the reasoning that is always trotted out – the overriding importance of maintaining the integrity of our faith community and so on – but I really don’t understand why secular Israel, which is still the majority, puts up with it.
Surely, in post- Inquisition and post-Holocaust Israel, we understand that faith can’t be instilled and can’t be excised by force? But that’s exactly what Israel tries to do. We can’t marry without the consent of the rabbis (and it goes without saying that their consent does not extend to non-Jews) and we can’t divorce without them either. Not to mention the blackmail involved in the kashrut certificate trade and the virtual monopoly the rabbis have over burials. Israel in 2013 is an embryonic theocracy masquerading as a modern state.
That’s not Kevin and Jo’s problem, of course. They had the good sense to keep the clergy far away from their wedding and I expect them to do the same throughout the rest of their married life. Mazaltov, guys, it was a great wedding!