Abandoned by the State

Forced to marry abroad: A personal perspective on Israel's marriage crisis

The lack of civil marriage and recongition of non-Orthodox marriage leaves hundreds of thousands of Israelis without any option to actualize their basic right to marriage. Millions more are forced to partake in a ceremony incongruent with their beliefs.

Under the chuppah at Sara and Tzachi's wedding

The following letter is a personal testimony by Tzachi Ezra Torf-Fulton, an Israeli man who was forced to marry his American wife Sara in Cyprus because of her Conservative conversion. The letter was originally published in Hebrew on Facebook.


We want to thank all of you who called and congratulated Sara and I after we announced our engagement. You made us extremely happy and we hope to see you at our wedding in the end of June.

We would especially like to thank the representative of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization who declared today that we cannot officially marry in the State of Israel. To be fair, I do not have a single complaint for that representative, who is subordinate to the ruling of a rabbi that claims Sara’s conversion is “only” Conservative (not Orthodox). Therefore Sara is not recognized by the Rabbinical Court (of the State of Israel) as being Jewish enough to marry another Jew. (In Israel the authority to grant the rights to marriage between Jews is held solely by the Rabbinical Court.)

Just a little bit about Sara:

Sara is an adopted child to Jewish parents, was converted during her first year of birth, lived all her life according to the Jewish tradition and heritage, went through several incidents of anti-Semitism in the U.S. because of her faith, studied Hebrew and Judaism at her temple, was a major activist in Hillel, fell in love with an Israeli, immigrated to Israel and acquired citizenship according to the “Right of Return Law” for Jews, is signed as Jewish on the Ministry of the Interior documents, volunteers in Magen David Adom (the national ambulance service), and does not eat legumes in Passover.

Five seconds after the phone call, I left work, got a sunflower bouquet, and ran to tell Sara that the State of Israel was going to force us to take a vacation in Europe! Even though it is another unexpected cost at a highly priced time in our life, suddenly it does not sound that bad, right?

It was clear to us that we were not willing to go through the seven rounds of hell that orthodox conversion requires of you and your family, only in order to satisfy several clerks – that by the way, we pay their salary.

So in general, what has changed? Nothing!

The wedding will take place just like we planned. The people that matter to us will arrive and make sure that it will be the happiest day in our life, and the Hupa ceremony will be even more equal and special than it should have been. A few days after we will take sick days from work, because this country makes us sick, and fly to demand our right to marriage somewhere in Europe.

If you got this far, you are probably wondering: “If everything is so great, then why does he make me read all those rants?!” So actually, a lot has changed, and it is in those machinations that design our life, my life, in this country.

I do not want to say phrases like: “Hitler was less strict about Who is a Jew,” out of respect to the holocaust survivors, who includes my deceased grandfather, Yaakov (Jacob) Gold; the single survivor out of his family, that found his way to Israel after an unimaginable tragedy. I actually would prefer to put the focus on Megilat HaAtzma'ut (The Israeli Declaration of Independence) – a document that was supposed to create the foundation and spirit for the new state to come and also contains several remarks concerning the establishment of Israel on the background of the Holocaust. And in those words: ” The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews … ; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture…”

Which reasonable country gives an immediate citizenship because of your religion, but at the same time restrains you from fulfilling the basic right and mitzvah – marriage – because of your religion.

I am asking, where is that freedom and equality? If the High Court of Law, in such an enlightened country, ruled that it does not interfere with the decisions of the Rabbinical Court, then from whom can I ask for help? Which reasonable country gives an immediate citizenship because of your religion, but at the same time restrains you from fulfilling the basic right and mitzvah – marriage – because of your religion.

One of my best but worried friends called to ensure I knew that if I Sara and I were to obtain a civil marriage outside of Israel, our children would experience the same problem we are currently navigating when they are ready to marry (if they choose). Actually, we are condemning ourselves to a “death sentence” in regards to our Jewish degree, lowering it from platinum to bronze.

First of all, I hope that in a decade or two something within Israel will be different. But because I am skeptic, I can only hope that our kids will understand their parents’ decision not to go through an orthodox conversion. That is, of course, assuming we will stay to live here, and send them to fight for the same country which created that situation. You tell me if you would stay in a place where even when you die, there are high chances that you will not get buried next to each other, but yes next to another Jew that ate pork and legumes in Passover.

I spent half of my life contributing and working for Israel. A place to whom I feel rootly connected, a place which we need to defend and contribute whenever we can. A place to which my grandfather ran, and started to create a family, rebuilding what was swept away in Poland. In that place grew a new form of racism, and right now I feel disgust, revulsion, and want to run again. I was not raised or educated in the spirit of these dark values, and I do not feel pride to live in a country that turns its back to me on the most important event of my life (thus far).

I do not want to leave a drowning ship. That is not how my Navy service trained me, but I refuse to sail the only route that this country offers me. Therefore, I would be happy to be part of a crew in a new ship, in case I will be called to serve the flag.

I want to finish with the happy tone that opened this message. We want to thank all of you who called and congratulated Sara and I after we announced our engagement. You made us extremely happy, and we all hope to dance with you all night long at our wedding — come the end of June.


Tzachi and Sara


P.S. Please, take few minutes to think about what difference there are between any type of conversions for a one year old kid. Share with us if you find some interesting insights.

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