Ve'Etchanan - 5778

Dear Congregant,


It is the 15th of Av (Tu b’Av), and romance is in the air.  For reasons that remain a bit unclear, it became the custom in Temple times for the mid-point of the otherwise somber month of Av to be celebrated as a festival.  Single women would adorn themselves in white frocks and flowers and go dancing in the fields, advertising their availability to perspective suitors, who would then escort them back to the town to complete their nuptials.

Lest you feel inspired to revive this custom, I have to caution you against then trying to sanctify your union in Israel under the auspices of one of my Masorti (Conservative) rabbinical colleagues.  Last week Rabbi Dov Haiyun, a Masorti rabbi serving a congregation in Haifa, was awakened at 5:30 a.m. by police officers who had come to arrest him for marrying a Jewish couple in a Jewish ceremony!   More specifically, Haiyun was arrested for having performed the Jewish ceremony as a clergy person not recognized by the Rabanut, the exclusively Orthodox state rabbinate.

While the monopoly of the Orthodox over the state-sponsored practice of Judaism in Israel is nothing new, the involvement of the secular apparatus of the state in enforcing what is essentially a denominational vendetta against their more liberal counterparts was seen, even by many of Hayun’s Orthodox colleagues, as an act of chutzpah on the part of the rabbinate.  Typically the Rabinut simply ignores the fact that non-Orthodox weddings are taking place in Israel, while the secular state authorities give teeth to their hegemony by requiring that couples so-married either remarry before an Orthodox officiant or have a separate - presumably secular - ceremony overseas, either of which results in a valid union in the eyes of the Jewish state (unlike a Reform or Masorti Israeli wedding).

State law and Orthodox prerogative notwithstanding, the celebration of Jewish weddings by non-Orthodox clergy is an increasingly common phenomenon in Israel with hundreds of couples choosing this option every year.  Indeed, in response to Rabbi Haiyun’s arrest, the authorities were deluged by emails, Facebook posts and couples appearing in person to “turn themselves in,” confessing to the crime of having been married in Israel in an non-Orthodox ceremony (Note:  the law penalizes both the couple being married and the officiant).

While I am loathe to declare that we are living in messianic times, it would appear that on this particular Tu b’Av we are, in fact, seeing as Isaiah forecast.  “The cities of Judah and the neighborhoods of Jerusalem [are] lifting up their voices joyously to celebrate [the unions] of men and of women” who choose to live their Jewish lives in a manner that they understand to be “in accordance with the traditions of Moses and the People Israel.”  May they some day be empowered to do so in the Jewish state without the intrusion of a politically empowered religious elite.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat celebrated in the company of those you love,

-- Rabbi Rachel Safman