There have been several news articles recently about the impact of intermarriage. Many bloggers have written about the very public marriage between Princess Chelsea and some commoner who owns a Tallis. A former employer of mine, David Breakstone wrote about the challenge he faced when his son’s fiancé turned out to be not-Jewish according to Halacha.
As tragic as the challenge of Intermarriage is, one of the really frustrating things for me is when two Jewish people want to get married and are made to jump through hoops by the Rabbinate to prove their Judaism.
Ha’aretz ran one such story about Hillary Rubin who produced the necessary documentation to prove her Jewishness, but the Rabbanut still gave her problems, to the point that she is afraid to go to the Beit Din (there are additional details not mentioned in the article, you can see more about her background on her blog).
Unfortunately these types of stories are all to common in Israel. I remember when Debbie and I got engaged 15 years ago. When we went to the Rabbinate we had to wait several hours as the couple in front of us has some complications. I don’t know the details, but they were a Russian couple, and there was some issue (he may have been a Cohen). Lets just say that there were raised voices, and by the time the couple left the office I am sure that they would have been happy to never see another Rabbi again – ever.
The wait was so long, that it was getting close to Shkia. I had assumed that we would be finished in plenty of time for me to find a Minyan, but when I saw that it was getting late for Mincha, I went into a corner of the waiting room to Daven.
Of course as soon as I started Davening the couple in front of us left, and a very angry Rabbi stormed out of his office, saw Debbie by herself and demanded to know where the Chatan was. When she pointed to me davening in the corner his whole attitude changed. Suddenly he was very friendly and accommodating, he even went out of his way to find my brother’s file from when he got married several years earlier and photo-copied the letter of recognition of the Rabbi who had provided a letter confirming that I was Jewish and Single, and to top it off he offered us a discount.
I left the office very upset by the whole experience. I know many Rabbis and interact with them every day, I don’t care whether this Rabbi is rude to me; it will not effect my opinion of Judaism – however the couple in front of us, this may well have been the first time that they ever spoke to a Rabbi. By making the process difficult and unpleasant almost guarantees that they will go out of their way to avoid Rabbis or anything connected with Judaism in the future. Talk about a wasted opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that it is important the Jews in this country are married according to halacha (a separate arrangement should be made for people who aren’t Jewish, but that’s a separate story), however the whole way that the process is handled should be restructured.
One possible solution would be to work more with local neighbourhood Rabbis who already exist in big cities and are under the auspices of the Rabbinate. These Rabbis should have their roles increased and be trained more to work with local residents, particularly non-religious residents in their neighbourhood.
If there is a Brit, Bar Mitzva or R”L a death in the neighbourhood, the Rabbi should make it his responsibility to meet the family and offer his assistance as needed.
Similarly, if there is an engagement in the neighbourhood, instead of facing some bureaucrat at the Rabbanut, the couple should meet with their local Rabbi who hopefully would know their families personally.
It would be the Rabbi’s responsibility to fill in any paperwork and confirm that the couple are both Jewish. If there any questions, he should have resources to track down contacts in the cities that they come from, or their grandparents come from to see if there are records in the local communities or cemetery. Maybe he could call the Rabbi in the town that the couple grew up or speak to their grandparents.
In the vast majority of cases, with the required resources and a few phone calls, a trained Rabbi should be able to confirm that the happy couple of in fact Jewish.
If there really is a question, it should be the job of the local Rabbi to go with the couple to the Beit Din and try to resolve the issue together.
Unfortunately a proposal like this would decentralize the control of the Rabbanut and would face fierce opposition
On a more positive note, Tzhoar is an organization of Rabbis who are trying to set up services similar to what I described above. They are trying to get their Rabbis employed by local congregations so that they can have representatives in as many communities and neighbourhoods as possible. The already help people navigate the bureaucracy of the Rabbanut and provide support and assistance to engaged couples.
I am not sure whether Tzohar would be able to help Hillary, and others with similar cases, but I wish her success and hope that she is able to quickly resolve the issues with the Rabbanut, has a happy wedding and merits to build a Bayt Neeman BYisrael.