How Game of Thrones Made Me Think about the Separation of Church and State

I should probably put a warning right up here that this article contains spoilers for the sixth season of the popular show Game of Thrones.

That done, a quick recap, because despite people’s varied opinion on the way the writers had Cersei rid herself of the church (I was a fan), I found myself actually thinking “What would happen if G-d forbid the entire Rabbinate blew up?”

~I’m not promoting that idea, it was just a passing thought!~

Here in Israel as opposed to this US there is no division of church and state. Take marriage for example

In the States, you can sign a marriage certificate and that’s it, in the eyes of the law you are married, then, depending on your religion you spend exorbitant amounts of money on another wedding but to this one you invite a small army to celebrate with you.

Here in Israel if you want to get married, you have to go to the Rabbinate and get them to sign documents allowing you to get married, both religiously and legally… and in my eyes that’s a problem.

Leaving aside cases such as intermarriage (We can open that can of snakes another day) I’ve heard dozens of stories from both Brides and Grooms, some of them of religious orientation, some not, being asked to prove that they are Jewish and this process can take MONTHS.

Many examples I’ve seem have been caused according to the chief rabbinate by paperwork that doesn’t date back long enough, cases of divorces having to prove that they are divorced, widows having to prove that their first husband is dead and converts who are under suspicion if they choose a moderate form of practicing Judaism rather than the extreme

In one example case of this sort of thing:

A couple went to register to get married, then they started making wedding plans, spent money on all the various services provided at a wedding only to be told that the Rabbinate wanted the groom’s grandmother’s ketubah.

There were two problems with this: first, his mother was a convert so he only had ketubahs going one generation back and two, he was considered a convert and was put under scrutiny.

I’m using what I wish I could call “an extreme example” here but the ludicrous nature of this happens all the time.

The stress caused the brides father to have a minor heart attack, the bride began chewing her nails to the point where if there were to be a wedding she would have to wear fake ones and in the meantime the bride and groom are stressed out because all of the money the’yve already spent on securing caterers, a band, a photographer, all who asked for down payments and had a no refunds after “X” weeks rule.

Things for everyone were tense.

Just two days before, the wedding didn’t get the Rabbinate’s okay. 2 days. 

To say the feelings of joy and relief were overwhelming would be an understatement.

You would think I would consider this a happy ending and I truly am happy for that couple, but what about the hundreds of other couples locked in this choke hold.

I believe that a separation is crucial to Israel’s democratic nature, I think by holding all marriages hostage, the Rabbinate is in many cases forcing people to jump through so many hoops they wonder if it was even worth starting in the first place.

I think there is a place for the “church” in the State of Israel, I believe in a Jewish-democratic nation but I do not believe that anyone should have the power from stopping you from legally getting married, under whatever circumstances you want.

I don’t believe in a complete separation of church and state, I think Israels Jewish nature is key to its identity, I do believe in the separation of issues.

The role of rabbis is to guide, to enlighten and help others find the right path, (I sound like the High Sparrow..) There job is not to make religion into a roadblock but to guide us to religion if we so choose.

I think the Chief Rabbinate has forgotten this and decided that it wants to be the grand judge as well.

Some middle ground needs to be found, in my opinion.

PS: I in no way wish any harm on anyone, I think problems most often need to be solved by discourse rather than violence.

PPS: I don’t think that the Rabbinate should have no authority, I think that authority should be limited however.

PPPS: Please do not consider doing anything done in Game of Thrones to any rabbis you know.. In fact I suggest not recreating any of it on anyone you know….

About the Author
Yochanan Brody, 23, was born and raised in Israel to immigrant parents. He is a collector of antiques and oddities, a massive bibliophile and an amateur historian.
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