Weddings tend to be a public or official demonstration of a committing bond, at times based on love, between two people. On Sunday evening, as the minor Jewish holiday of love Tu Be’av sets in, a young couple will be conducting a very public nuptials ceremony in front of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, intended to demonstrate against the current situation in Israel, where the only way for Jews to wed by law is through the Chief Rabbinate.
In the times of the Second Temple, single Jewish girls adorned in white dresses would sing and dance in the vineyards surrounding Jerusalem on Tu Be’av, to be observed and subsequently selected for marriage by eligible Jewish men. That tradition didn’t survive, but the day is still celebrated as the Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s Day, and is one of the most sought for weddings in Israel.
So for Stas Granin and Yulia Tagil, Tu Be’av was the perfect day to tie the knot, and an opportunity to raise their voice in protest against the rabbinate in their wedding, which is the centerpiece of the “Free Love” event encompassing their ceremony, to be conducted in a pluralistic Jewish form by Dr. Motti Zaira.
“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,” says 28-year-old Granin, who made aliya from the FSU in the 1990s. Granin and Tagil, 29, are part of an estimated body of 350,000 Israelis, who were sufficiently Jewish to be recognized as such by the State of Israel for the Law of Return, but are not necessarily perceived as such by the Chief Rabbinate, which would necessitate an inquiry into such a person’s Judaism or a conversion, were they to seek a marriage license as Jews.
Attempts to provide civil marriages between Jews in Israel legal status have so far been unsuccessful. Israel Beiteinu’s David Rotem recently passed a law allowing civil unions between non-Jews, but the problem remains for the tens of thousands of young people who are either not halachically Jewish though they perceive themselves as such, or those who would have to undergo what they see as an unnecessary probe by the rabbinate into their background, to prove they are Jewish. Jewish non-Orthodox ceremonies in Israel are also not recognized by the law, and growing numbers of Israelis, including Jews by Halacha, are choosing to marry out of Israel and have their certificate ratified upon their return to the country, or simply live in common-law.
But Granin and Tagil, who bear in their minds the 70 years of anti-religious Soviet Union oppression, want to marry as Jews in Israel, even if the Sunday evening ceremony will not be recognized by the state. Furthermore, they stress that they are not opposed to the very existence of the rabbinate, just think that every individual in this democracy should be entitled to choose to way they marry.
This is the second such public Tu Be’av protest wedding to take place, and will be accompanied by street theater, live music, films, dancing, and information booths all promoting the freedom of choice in marriage. It is funded primarily by the New Israel Fund, and organized by Havaya, an organization that promotes alternative Jewish life-cycle ceremonies, and Fishka- a Young Russian speakers Community in Israel promoting social change. Eran Baruch, head of Bina: Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture, which is also supporting the event, said that “it is a great Mitzvah not to marry through the rabbinate. The religious establishment’s control over our lives is distancing many publics, particularly that of immigrants.”