Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Wilderness Wedding

Greetings from the Judean Hills and Jerusalem!

My family and I have had a sensational visit to Israel here this week, now staying at the Inbal hotel in Jerusalem, which has become a favorite of Beth El visitors over the past several years. This is a personal visit, timed to coincide with two major happenings for my family, Ethan’s ten day excursion with “Write on for Israel,” a select group of high school journalists training to become leaders in Israel advocacy, and my niece Luz’s wedding on Thursday night.

I’ve had the pleasure of bumping into some familiar faces, as always happens when in Israel. One congregant, Ruth Ginsburg, daughter of Gerry and Fran, who will be joining us at our hotel tonight for Shabbat dinner. I had the pleasure of bringing her here on her first trip 14 years ago, so in a sense we'll be coming full circle. I also had breakfast on Wednesday with Jim and Mary Himes; Jim, as many of you know, is running for our district’s Congressional seat currently held by Chris Shays. The race stands to be one of the most watched in the country this November.

We had a wide ranging discussion about Israel and his trip here seemed to have a great impact on him. In just a few days, he had several meetings with various officials and also visited the front lines of the current tensions, Sderot. I was impressed that he saw the importance of making this long trip to Israel during the course of a very busy campaign. There is no question that Chris Shays has become such a strong supporter of Israel in large part because of visits such as this. Himes spoke of how impressed he was at the restraint and heroic resolve of the people of Sderot, despite the endless rocket attacks. I remarked, “Imagine what our government would do if Buffalo came under similar attack from Canada,” to which Mary replied that she grew up in Montreal.

Following the surgical removal of my foot from my mouth, the conversation turned to other political and economic concerns. After our breakfast, the two of them headed for a visit to Yad Vashem. I look forward to a vigorous debate this fall (and suggested that maybe Beth El host!) – but it seems clear to me that Israel’s security will not be a matter for disagreement among the candidates.

Now… the wedding.

Imagine how the Moabite prophet Bilaam must have felt when he looked down at the peaceful tents of the Israelites wandering in the Wilderness. He said in this week's portion, “How lovely are your tents Oh Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel.” Well, as you can see from this photo, this is somewhat the feeling created while looking down at the huppah this evening in the stark desert hills just a half hours drive from downtown Jerusalem, a few hairpin turns down the road from Ma’aleh Adumim. In this biblical setting called Eretz Beresheet (, complete with biblically attired staff and camels, my niece Luz married Shlomi in a wedding that was as current in its political overtones as it was biblical in its geography.

You see, up until a few days ago, there was no assurance that this wedding could come off. That’s because Shlomi is a Cohen and a strict reading of Jewish Law prohibits a Cohen from marrying someone who has converted to Judaism. Luz, who was adopted at birth, was converted at the age of three months in an Orthodox conversion. I had the honor of being the dunker, but I was not an official witness.

In normal situations, lenient rulings of rabbis have been followed when a minor converts at so young an age, but these are not normal times for religion in Israel. The rabbinical authorities have of late been on a rampage of restrictiveness, in some cases even rescinding conversions years after they took place. This kind of thing is unheard of, but it is happening. Just this week, a new party was announced here by former MK Ephraim Sneh, designed to address some of the deep social divisions that were once addressed by the now defunct party Shinui, including the widening religious - secular divide. So in this atmosphere, it was not surprising that the authorities denied Luz and Shlomi’s appeals. This blow hurt them deeply – they had been perfect models of how engaged couples should behave and both come from very religious families. Ironically, had they not been such models – e.g. had Luz been pregnant – the authorities would likely have been much more lenient in allowing the wedding to happen.

Rather than cancel, Luz and Shlomi decided to do what a growing number of Israelis are doing. They found a rabbi from the Masorti movement, someone originally from Connecticut (who a few years ago spoke to us at Beth El about his embattled experiences in Gilo) Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow, who now works at the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem. The ceremony he planned with the couple was most meaningful and beautiful. While there was some question as to whether anyone would boycott this ceremony, in the end, all sides were present and nothing took away from the joy.

So tonight, the mountains danced. And as you can see from these photos (the one above with her cousin Dan), the bride positively glowed.

Luz and Shlomi will still need to go to another country to become civilly married, but in the eyes of the laws of Moses and the people Israel, the same ones who dwell in those goodly tents blessed by Balaam in this week’s portion, they are already married. In the eyes of God, too, I think. I can guarantee that no thunder and lightning struck us in the wilderness tonight. Just a warm Hamsin breeze.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem, from Mara, Dan, Ethan, myself, and from some new friends I made today at Genesis Land...

1 comment:

Rabbi Jeremy Gordon said...

How sad for the Rabbinate to get in the way of the love of a couple like this.
The problem is based on the understanding of Ezekiel 44:22 with says priests shall take wives 'of the seed of the house of Israel [betulot mi zera yisrael].' Where Rabbi Yose says the woman must be conceived [using the root form zera] as an Israelite and
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says the woman must have entered into puberty [also using the root form zera] as an Israelite. The codes (Rambam MT Issurei Biah 18:3 & SA EH 6:8) reject Shimon bar Yochai's leniency. Personally I reject the overarching problem - which is that the Rabbis assume all converts to be harlots and therefore when Lev 21:7 says cohanim can't marry an ishah zonah this means a convert (see Torat Cohanim ad loc). I have a full treatment of the issue at

Rabbi Jeremy Gordon