Getting Married in Israel Without Going Insane
By Abbey Onn / April 6, 2010
Most brides worry about looking perfect in their dress, getting the invitations out on time and making sure that her mother-in-law loves her. My worries as a bride-to-be had less to do with invitations (they went out two weeks prior … Read More
Most brides worry about looking perfect in their dress, getting the invitations out on time and making sure that her mother-in-law loves her. My worries as a bride-to-be had less to do with invitations (they went out two weeks prior to the event) than with actually being allowed to marry my beloved. As an American Jew in Israel without Israeli citizenship, before dresses and cakes, I first needed to prove my Judaism.
Many Israelis choose a civil marriage, either in Cypress or here in the holy land, and this choice generally makes the process much simpler. It was very important to my husband that we were married in a religious ceremony. Our first wedding reflected my values (Reform female rabbi, a ketubah we wrote and a local, organic menu), so I felt it was only fair that my husband have a similar opportunity to express himself (Orthodox rabbi, standard ketubah, lots and lots of meat). But it wasn’t that simple.
In order to open a marriage file in Israel, the Rabbinate first needed to confirm that I was Jewish. I anticipated this and came prepared with my birth certificate, my passport, my parent’s wedding certificate and a letter from and Orthodox Rabbi in the US. The first question they asked was for our Israeli identity cards. My husband laid his on the table and explained that I did not have one, due to my being American. The response was, “Oh. Well, then you can’t get married.” Talk about warm and welcoming. We explained that despite my being American, I was indeed Jewish, and thus the intended marriage could actually happen.
A very long process ensued that included actually standing in front of the Beit Din, Israel’s religious court, otherwise known as two men sitting behind a raised bench. They kept calling in new Rabbis to see if anyone knew the Rabbi who wrote my letter of recommendation—it was a very technical process. Ultimately, we learned that the letter from the Rabbi in the US would not suffice and I would need a letter from the Rabbinate of my home town. This is the first thing that actually made sense out of the whole process; what didn’t make sense was why someone hadn’t told us this when we had called six months earlier or visited in the previous weeks.
As I am currently living in Israel, my mom took the task upon herself to meet with the Beit Din in Boston and prove, once and for all, my religious identity. Before she could meet with anyone, we first needed to procure some relevant documents: my parents’ ketubah (framed and hanging on their bedroom wall), three letters from prominent Boston Jews (prominent is otherwise defined as Shabbat observant), my birth certificate, three passport photos, and if we had photos of my grandparents’ gravesites, they would also help in the identifying process. At this point, my mother lost her calm and asked whether or not we should hire a photographer to take formal shots of her next to her mother’s grave as she forgot to pose for photos during the actual funeral. A minor break in solemnity.
The meeting itself was harmless. The Rabbis she met with actually knew the Rabbi that had married her thirty-seven years earlier and all of the documents were in place. After six months and many different appointments, I was officially decreed a Jew! While I was elated at having the official document and being able to proceed worrying about less important wedding matters, I was left with a few questions. How did the Rabbis know who wrote my letters of recommendation? How do they know that those people actually signed said letters? How did they know I was the one in the photos?
I am positive that it sounds like my feelings toward this situation are irreverent at best and pissed off at worst, but in truth I understand the need for the process. While I find the Orthodox wedding process in Israel to be frustrating and anger inducing (I have said nothing of the ritual bath before the wedding or the bridal classes that are required), I understand wanting to know that the people getting married are Jewish.
With all of the official stuff dealt with, the wedding itself was beautiful—it was a Friday morning event on a Kibbutz with lots of friends, family, good food and music.
If you are in Israel and are trying to navigate Jewish life cycle events, such as marriage, Itim, an organization dedicated to making these events both meaningful and stress-free, was an amazing help!