In many ways, Israel is a culturally diverse, largely secular, modern society — but not in the context of Jewish marriage. To be legally valid, an Israeli Jewish marriage requires the authorization of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which means Orthodox law determines who can marry, and Orthodox tradition governs the wedding ceremony.
A legally recognized Jewish marriage in Israel is unobtainable for about 660,000 Israeli Jews, according to 2016 statistics. In order to have legal status, a Jewish marriage must be recognized under Orthodox law. As a result, same-sex partners, interfaith couples, converts who did not have Orthodox conversions, and those whose mothers were not Jewish, which is the case for many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, are out of luck.
Jewish couples who do qualify to marry legally in Israel have only one option: an Orthodox Jewish wedding ceremony. They must wed according to Orthodox customs in a ceremony officiated by a rabbi who is authorized by the Chief Rabbinate. In the traditional Orthodox ceremony, the bride assumes a more subordinate role, which is in stark contrast to the equal partnership between bride and groom that is often reflected in modern nuptials.
Given all of the limitations on Jewish marriage in Israel, many Israeli couples choose to get married in other countries. A civil marriage duly authorized in a foreign country is considered legitimate under Israeli law.
Opting for this route, three Israeli couples will be married in New York City on December 3 in a public ceremony, dubbed Three Weddings and a Statement. This event is being organized by New York’s Temple Emanu-El, where the wedding will be held, in conjunction with the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), an arm of the Israeli Reform movement that advocates for pluralism and greater religious diversity in Israel. In fact, IRAC is using this triple wedding to launch its Equality in Marriage campaign. Also partnering in the public wedding ceremony are the 92Y, Central Synagogue, Park Avenue Synagogue and Sutton Place Synagogue.
Two of the Israeli couples being married in this ceremony would not qualify for a legal Jewish marriage in Israel, and the third couple does not want a traditional Orthodox ceremony. Extending the couples’ wedding invitation to the world, IRAC explains in its newsletter:
We have always wanted to combine a political statement with a joyful event. This is why IRAC and Temple Emanu-El of New York City are hosting the largest wedding for Israeli couples outside of Israel as a statement that this basic right should be denied to no one.