Regev Responds

The basic right of marriage freedom should be denied to no one

Three weddings and a protest

Today, at Temple Emanu-El in New York, New York three young couples from Israel got married, making the statement that the basic right of marriage freedom should be denied to no one.

Three weddings at Temple Emanu-El, credit: Nomi EllensonThree weddings at Temple Emanu-El, credit: Nomi Ellenson

This was a public statement of defiance against Israel's religious "status quo," which denies this basic right of marriage freedom to hundreds of thousands of Israel’s own citizens.

I shared the following moving remarks at this special ceremony:

“These three lovable couples are sharing their wedding with you, to wake you up - to mobilize you - regarding the plight of hundreds of thousands of Israelis like them who are denied the basic right of marriage in our beloved Israel.

“The challenge of marriage freedom captures the problems facing Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State. It affects both Israeli society and world Jewry. Allow me to briefly stress the following;

1) Israel only recognizes marriages, when they are celebrated in the country, if they are conducted under the aegis of a religious authority. There is no option for civil marriage, and for Jews, the only authority rests in the hands of the Orthodox, Chief Rabbinate. Israel is the only western democracy in the world that denies its citizens the right to marry, as we have demonstrated in a comparative study of marriage freedom in all 194 countries of the world. (That survey is available at

2) We calculated the number of Israelis who, even if they're willing to be married by Orthodox rabbinic officiants, would be denied the legal right of marriage to exceed 700,000! They fall into a number of categories, some are represented here today. They include over 350,000 Israeli citizens who emigrated from the former Soviet Union whose mothers are not considered Jewish in the eyes of the Orthodox Rabbinate. Another category is of great importance involves converts to Judaism: Although the legal battle to grant the right of Aliyah to Reform, Conservative, and other non-Orthodox converts was crowned with success; and although these converts are registered as Jews in Israel's civil registration, none of them can legally marry in Israel. Clearly the "Who is a Jew?" battle is not over, and we should be acutely aware of it. The majority of the children growing up in the US Jewish community would not be able to legally marry in Israel today. We must not settle for the partial victories of the past.

In a recent poll conducted by Hiddush, more than four out of every five secular Jewish Israelis responded that if given a choice they would not marry via the Orthodox Rabbinate.

3) An even larger group, also represented here today, cannot marry in a ritual and manner that honors their beliefs and lifestyle. Israeli Jews can only legally marry by an Orthodox functionary and only if they submit to the Orthodox marriage rites. For instance, a non-egalitarian ceremony. In a recent poll conducted by Hiddush, more than four out of every five secular Jewish Israelis responded that if given a choice they would not marry via the Orthodox Rabbinate. They would rather choose the likes of the marriage celebration taking place today or civil marriage. My own daughter’s Reform wedding held in Israel was not recognized. We all flew to NY where, at City Hall, I signed their Marriage License, and that was the only way that Israel recognized them as a married couple!

4) There's good news too; The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews support freedom of marriage and divorce, to allow Israelis that which is taken for granted in all normal democracies: the right to choose their marriage partners, who will marry them, and what kind of ceremony they will have.

The battle over freedom of marriage, as well as the larger battle over religious freedom and equality, is not that of non-Orthodox v. Orthodox, or of secular v. haredi. The effort to achieve religious freedom now enjoys the support of a wide array of religious and political views. We have most recently seen this again when we launched
the “Vision Statement on Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State”. I wrote it with with your remarkable landsman - Rabbi Marc Angel, former senior rabbi of the Spanish Portuguese Synagogue and former President of the Rabbinical Council of America, and it is supported by scores of rabbis, leaders, and activists from Orthodox through Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and secular in Israel and the US. The battle ahead of us is truly a battle between the forces of enlightenment that embrace both Judaism and democracy, and those who wish for a theocracy - a Torah State. Today's "Three Weddings and a Statement" will hopefully have an impact on the outcome of this struggle. Let us celebrate these three couples as they demonstrate their fidelity to each other, their love of Judaism and their commitment to the bonds between the Jewish State and the Jewish world.”

Take Action!