Tomorrow is Yom Ha’atzmut, Israel’s day of independence. This is the day in 1948, when the Zionist dream was finally accomplished: a state where Jews would be free to practice the religion that they have been persecuted and killed for practicing since the destruction of the Second Temple in70 CE. Israel has survived countless wars, terrorist attacks, and divestment attempts over the course of its 65-year existence.
How do we ensure that Israel will continue to exist? With the way things stand now, when Jews attack other Jews or view Jews who are not as religious as them to be inferior, the State of Israel will have a very difficult time maintaining order and ensuring the individual rights of every citizen. This topic is a highly debated topic and one that always makes its way into the Israeli elections: how much power should the extreme religious right have in a government? This question was answered when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the choice of not including the Shas party, which represents the Hareidi communities in Israel, in his new coalition. This gives room to make major changes in Israel.
One of these changes that now can be made is the current marriage system. As it stands now, the way one could be legally married in Israel really depends on your religious affiliation. You would generally have to a religious court of your religion. If you are Jewish, you must be able to prove that you are Jewish beyond a reasonable doubt, and in order to obtain an Israeli marriage license you must go through the process that any religious Jew would go through in order to get married. The problem with this system is that it forces any non-orthodox or religiously devout person of any denomination to follow their respective religious customs in order to get a secular marriage license. Israel does have a policy of recognizing marriage licenses from other countries, but an Israeli citizen should not be forced to obtain one from a different country just because they do not wish to comply with religious obligations of the marriage process nor should they be forced to comply with these religious policies if they want to be married in Israel.
The solution for this problem, as many others have suggested before me, is to create a civil marriage system as an alternative to the present marriage system. In this system, people will be able to get a marriage license like one they would obtain in the United States, and if they wish they would be able to electively choose whether to comply with the religious obligations of the marriage process.
Another change that must be made is concerning the Women of the Wall situation. Women of the Wall is a group of egalitarian-minded Jewish women who wish to be able to use Taleisim (prayer shawls) during their prayers at the Kotel Hamaravi (The Wailing Wall), which for the orthodox circles, is only used by men. The Hareidim, the extreme orthodox sect of Jews in Israel, oppose this practice to the point of throwing garbage or rocks at the women who attempt to pray using their taleisim.
One solution that I thought about for the Women of the Wall issue would be to allot the egalitarian and the orthodox Jews who take offense to the egalitarian practices different times when they can use the prayer site at the Kotel. However, I saw an interesting article recently about what Natan Sharansky, the famous refusenik and current head of the Jewish Agency, has proposed on what should be done about the issue. Sharansky has proposed that a third section be added to the Kotel. The existing two sections, one being for men and the other for women, would not be changed, but the third section would be for egalitarian Jews. This would ensure that the egalitarian Jews would be afforded not only security from being attacked for their religious beliefs or customs, but also for them to be able to continually use the Kotel to pray like many other Jews currently do.
No Jew should ever consider him or herself to be superior or inferior to another Jew. This is wrong because any Jew, no matter how they observe Judaism, is a Jew and should be treated as one. After all, the Torah does say that every person was created in the image of God. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (the singing rabbi) used to greet every Jew, whether religious or not, as “My holy brother” or “My holy sister”. This is my ultimate message: do not exclude people for what or how they practice. After all, who are you to judge? That is what Israel is: being united for who we are and not how we believe.