“We should get a divorce,” says Sweetie. It’s a lovely fall afternoon when she speaks these words. The sky is blue, the air cool, the sun low on the horizon as we walk the dog in a moshav near the home we share. “As soon as possible too,” she adds.
This is does not come as a surprise, we have been discussing the possibility for some time now but it suddenly seems so real. I look at this wonderful woman who has been my partner in life for over twenty years and my wife for just over nineteen and I’m instantly speechless, something that does not happen all that often.
Please understand, Sweetie and I are married not once but twice. The first wedding was a civil ceremony in California (Monterrey Bay, surf, seagulls, the whole bit. Our wedding banquet was an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at Bob’s Big Boy). And once more in Israel (chuppah, family, witnesses, ketubah, the whole bit). So the idea of putting an end to our marriage is a daunting prospect.
“You are right,” I reply, “we really should. And, like you said, ‘as soon as possible,’ but no earlier than that.”
Just to be clear, Sweetie and I are not separating. My marriage is not ending in any real sense other than the narrowest legal one. As I said before, by the time we got married in Israel through the rabbinate Sweetie and I had already been a couple for a number of years. By that time we made it to Israel for our wedding, our marriage had already been certified by the State of California for months; and being married by the Sunshine State was just about enough for me.
But we also wanted the big ado. The party, the guests, the pleasure of having dozens of guests witness our union. So we came to Israel and got married here. Needless to say, we had to go through the same humiliating, wasteful, awful process of having ignorant, arrogant, overly-powerful religious clerks give us permission to get married in Israel.
As these things go, I think that our own experience with the rabbinical establishment was neither the worst nor the most pleasant in the history at that sorry institution. Nobody called my mother and demanded that she speak Yiddish to them as a way to prove my Jewishness (that would have been interesting on many levels, since we are Sephardic). The rabbi’s wife didn’t subject Sweetie to embarrassing interrogations about her home keeping practices or whether she would be fertile on the day of the ceremony. Nope, our own experience with the rabbinate was just enough to let us know who was boss in this country and where we actually stood in the pecking order (very, very low).
But now there is talk that the government will actually pass a “domestic partnerships” law. For all intents and purposes, the unions that the law proposes would amount to the establishment of civil marriage in Israel without actually using the word and we want in.
There are competing and conflicting bills on this issue making their way through the legislative process right now. In some versions the law applies only to same-sex couples, in some it applies to couples that the holy bureaucrats have blocked from getting married for some reason, but in at least one version the law would apply to anyone who would want it. Sweetie and I are rooting for the third one.
At its most basic level marriage is a contract, and it shares many of the characteristics of many other civil contracts. For it to be binding for example, both parties must enter into it voluntarily (the very reason why minors are not allowed to marry). But marriage is also unusual in a number of ways. Even though it is a contract between two people, it actually imposes obligations on society as a whole. For example, married people have some rights on one another’s property that society recognizes, they are taxed differently, and they can make critical decisions for one another in some extreme circumstances. The list is long but the point is very clear, marriage matters.
Given the importance of marriage, it is no wonder that the religious establishment has worked so hard and fought so long to maintain its monopoly on it. Behind the hollow protestations of guarding this or that sacred principle stands the bald fact that controlling who gets married and how, and who gets divorced and how, is a source of power and control over the population. This power has been applied capriciously and unfairly every day since the rabbinate got it, and the very possibility that it might be going away should make the religious establishment very, very nervous.
So Sweetie and I made a simple calculation. The less control the rabbinate has over our lives the better off we are; and so it has come to this. The moment an alternative to the holy matrimony comes around, is off to divorce court we go.