Conservative, Reform Movements Ask Israelis to Tie the Knot Their Way

Israel’s Conservative and Reform movements have launched an advertising campaign aimed at attracting more Israeli couples to marry through a non-Orthodox rabbi.

The campaign will include ads in major newspapers and radio commercials, appealing to young Israelis to choose an egalitarian wedding service.

A campaign poster shows a photo of a bride placing a ring on a groom’s hand, an image meant to contrast the Orthodox marriage ceremony in which only the man gives his wife a ring.

Rabbi Ehud Bandel, president of the Masorti movement in Israel, told a news conference Wednesday, “Our ceremony is no less Jewish and no less religious than the Orthodox ceremony.” He said the Israeli Conservative movement is offering a ceremony that is “relevant” to the lives of modern Israeli couples.

The advertising campaign will target Israeli couples from all walks of life who seek an alternative to the state-recognized Orthodox wedding. It will not specifically focus on couples whom Orthodox rabbis refuse to marry, such as a divorced woman to a Kohen, or priest.

Since the Orthodox establishment controls marriage in Israel, couples who are wed by a non-Orthodox rabbi are not eligible to be registered as married by the state. Instead, most opt to fly to Cyprus afterward to be married in a civil ceremony, which is recognized by the state. Liberal rabbis called for an end to this “absurd” situation.

The publicity drive is the second stage of a campaign launched five months ago under the banner, “There Is More Than One Way To Be Jewish.”

That campaign caused a ruckus when Israel Radio first refused to air the commercials, claiming they were too controversial. The cost of the campaign – - nearly $500,000 — is being paid for by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund of San Francisco.

Rabbi Meir Azari, chairman of the Progressive Rabbis Council in Israel, said the campaign is the latest stage of a “revolution” taking place regarding Israeli awareness of non-Orthodox movements.

“The younger generation, the high-tech generation, is looking for an alternative and I see this very clearly in Tel Aviv,” Azari said. “This campaign comes to strengthen that feeling.”

The Reform and Conservative movements say they married 600 and 300 couples, respectively, in Israel last year. Both say they are witnessing increased interest in their marriage ceremonies.

The liberal streams also hope to generate added exposure through the thousands of guests who attend the weddings.

Idit Lev, a 29-year-old Israeli who got married in a Conservative ceremony last September, said many guests to her wedding “were sorry when they saw there is another way” to get married.

“The ceremony we had was a Jewish ceremony but it was also our ceremony,” she added.

Both movements say their wedding ceremonies are fully founded in Jewish tradition. They differ from Orthodox ceremonies by allowing couples to play a bigger role in crafting the ceremony in a more egalitarian way.

For example, the liberal ketubah, or marriage contract, is designed to stress the partnership of marriage instead of the Orthodox concept of kinyan, or “acquisition” of a bride by a groom.

The non-Orthodox ketubah is also written in Hebrew instead of Aramaic.

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