Broken hearts in battle

Reserve combat soldier returns from war protesting that he cannot marry his fiancée because of Orthodox marriage monopoly

Yet another heartbreaking story about an Israeli couple unable to marry in Israel because of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate's monopoly on marriage. The answer is simple: freedom of marriage!

Shai Fleishon and Yanina Tsirina Photo :FacebookShai Fleishon and Yanina Tsirina Photo :Facebook

As soldiers return home following Operation Protective Edge, the continued challenge of Israel's identity as a Jewish and democratic state is once again at hand. Issues independent of the Palestinians and Hamas that stem from internal Jewish tensions do not go away even at times of war.

Lack of full realization of Israel’s promise for religious freedom and equality continues to threaten to tear Israel apart at its seams. Seemingly these issues are so much easier to resolve, but will we unite to do what’s right and necessary when political deals override human rights and dignity such as in the story below?

The following open letter to Economic Minister Naftali Bennett was recently published on Facebook and went viral in social media, TV, and the press. Shai Fleishon, a combat reserve soldier just returned from a month of fighting in Gaza to face the reality that he and his fiancee cannot marry in the country he just put his life on the line for.

This timely letter demonstrates how crucial freedom of marriage is for Israel's future. It ties directly into the lives of all Israelis and Jews living around the world. As Shai’s case shows, the challenge of freedom of marriage is the challenge of "Who is a Jew" as well, and both of them require a response based on embracing the core principle of freedom of religion.

[English translation from original Hebrew]

My name is Shai. I am an Israeli citizen, 32 years old, and fulfill all of my civic responsibilities. I pay taxes, I obey the law, and I serve in reserves. That's how it goes in a democracy: you have obligations and you also have rights.

But that's exactly the thing, Now, after I've returned from a month of reserve duty after an emergency enlistment with my tank battalion

It turns out that unlike most Israeli citizens, there is a right that has been taken away from me. The right to marry in my homeland.

that I serve in (and I'm proud, by the way, to do that), it turns out that unlike most Israeli citizens, there is a right that has been taken away from me. The right to marry in my homeland.

My beloved fiancee, with whom I plan on spending the rest of my life, is an Israeli citizen. She has also fulfilled all of her obligations from paying taxes to serving as a soldier-teacher in the IDF. But unlike me, only her father is Jewish. She made aliyah to Israel alone at age 18, out of Zionist ideals, and she has always seen herself as a part of the Jewish People and recently she even underwent a Reform conversion (through which, by the way, both of us became closer to Jewish tradition).

And here comes the problem. When I contacted the Religious Council where I live (Rishon Letzion), the rabbi responsible explained to me that the Chief Rabbinate does not recognize Reform conversions and besides - the fact that I am a Kohen (of priestly descent) means that it doesn't matter which type of conversion my fiancée underwent, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate won't permit a marriage between a Kohen and a convert because of restrictions in Jewish Law. When I got in touch with the Interior Ministry, I was informed that there is no legal avenue for my partner and I to marry in Israel without going through the [Orthodox] Chief Rabbinate.

And here is my request to you. I am asking you to help me and my fiancée marry in the State of Israel and in no other country.

We live here, this is our country. We fulfill our obligations through thick and thin, and we want to fully receive our rights that all citizens receive.

Thank you,

Shai Fleishon

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