Monday, March 03, 2008

The proof is in the kugl

The most emailed item today from the NYT is an article that appeared in yesterday's magazine about the fact that there are no civil marriages or divorces in Israel. The article concentrates solely on the inconvenience that this means to secular American Jews when they want to get married in Israel and the orthodox rabbis who are in charge of marriages look for proof of Jewishness in a way that is obviously insulting and abusive. But in fact this is a problem not only for American Jews, but mostly for secular Israeli citizens and Jews from everywhere else who need to go through fire to please the rabbis in Israel.
I have never understood why the orthodox think they are the sole arbiters of who is Jewish and what is Jewish enough, and worse, why secular Jews let them.
To begin with, being Jewish is such a pain in the ass, who would want to claim that they are Jews if they weren't?
Secondly, endless davening and not flicking a switch on Saturdays does not a better Jew make.
My entire life has been one of total immersion in secular Judaism. I went to a secular Jewish school from age 3 to age 18 in Mexico. I lived in Israel for 4 years, I worked for Jewish institutions in Mexico. I speak Hebrew and Yiddish. My family observed the traditions beautifully. If the Nazis came back and ran into me on the street they would send me right to the ovens. And some rabbi somewhere in Israel or in Williamsburg may deem that I'm not Jewish enough for him: Screw him!
And if marriage is a problem in Israel, divorce is a disaster, because according to Jewish law only the man can grant the woman a divorce. With all due respect, the rabbis and their medieval, misogynistic mentality may not always be the best arbiters of fairness when it comes to granting divorces. I had a teacher in Jerusalem who made it her life's mission to institute secular divorce courts in Israel, because the outcomes were so frequently unfair to women. This was in 1986.
And this asking for proof does not only happen in Israel. When I got married to Mr. Ex-Enchilada in Mexico, our orthodox rabbi (I must say, a very decent guy) started asking my American born fianceé for all kinds of proof that he was Jewish.
"My mother was in a Nazi labor camp for 5 years and most of her family was wiped out, is that proof enough for you?" But no, it wasn't. David had to get records of his Bar-Mitzvah and who knows what else, in order to satisfy the rabbi. There is something about this that is not right.
What gives the orthodox the right? When I lived in Israel, the orthodox rabbis treated arriving Ethiopian Jews with utter contempt and distrust, disbelieving they were Jewish and generally making the Ethiopians feel discriminated and unwelcome. It was shameful and ghastly. What makes a bearded guy from Eastern Europe more Jewish than a Black Ethiopian Jew?
Why is this allowed to happen? Secular Jews think they owe some kind of gratitude to the orthodox, who probably wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire. There is this mystique about the orthodox, like an Israeli told me once, because supposedly "they preserve the religion for us", which has got to be the stupidest reason to allow them to abuse the system. It is up to every Jew to preserve his religion or his commitment to whatever makes him a Jew. The orthodox are not doing it for the rest of us, nor should they. Plus, I have news for you all: religious people (of any persuasion) are not holier than non-religious people. In fact, many times it is the abuse of their supposed piety what makes them deeply unholy and corrupt.
Israeli citizens should demand to have secular civil institutions in their country. It is their own fault that they have to deal with these outrages because they have allowed the orthodox to get away with murder (not paying taxes, not going to the Army and playing mind games with the country, since 1948).
Just as Israel is starting to give gay people rights, it is time for it to stop this abominable nonsense and establish civil marriage and divorce, such as exists in every modern, democratic state in the world today. Israel can be a Jewish state, but it does not have to be a religious Jewish state. In fact, the majority of its citizens are secular Jews. And Israel should be a secular Jewish state, like so many of us are secular Jews, deeply committed to our history and our culture, without a problem.

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