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Readers Ask Haaretz: Would Israelis Accept My non-Jewish Girlfriend?

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File photo: A couple embraces.
File photo: A couple embraces.Credit: DAVID MDZINARISHVILI/REUTERS

If you don't know how to behave in a certain situation, if you need friendly advice but you've already driven all your sane friends away or if you've got the kind of embarrassing question that can only be asked anonymously, send a mail to:

Our answers will be generous and honest – but should not be seen as replacement for professional consultations. Obviously.

Dear Haaretz,

I’ve been in a relationship for several years with my girlfriend who lives in Prague. She’s a local girl who isn’t Jewish, and in spite of that I’m interested in strengthening our relationship and even moving to Prague, in order to start a family. My question is, in today’s Israel do people still reject mixed marriages/assimilation, or have they shed those conservative ideas? I would be interested in hearing an answer that represents a secular worldview that takes into account as many variables as possible.

Elad, 35

Dear Inquiring Assimilationist,

I’m happy that you’ve found love in this world, of the kind that you want to deepen and strengthen – that’s no small thing. Unfortunately, there’s a certain contradiction between your question about whether in present-day Israel people still reject mixed marriages, and your request for a reply that represents a secular worldview. That’s because the worldview that is prevalent in large parts of present-day Israel isn’t secular, and this profoundly influences the attitude toward mixed marriages.

I think it would be more correct to talk about the current situation, and the current situation is not simple. About 5 percent to 7 percent of married couples in Israel now are composed of a Jew and a non-Jew, mostly people who immigrated from the former Soviet Union and identify as Jews, but whose Judaism was not recognized here. The Knesset Research and Information Center addressed the subject in 2008, and described it somewhat euphemistically: “Members of mixed families experience many difficulties in their attempt to become part of Israeli society, mainly in the areas of marriage, divorce, conversion and civil status.”

Of course the main reason is that in the State of Israel, personal status issues are under the jurisdiction of religious courts, according to the religion of the petitioner. When the petitioners belong to two different religions, the system goes into shock. In the absence of a civil system for handling these issues, mixed couples become second-class citizens who are denied many of their rights as citizens, and who cannot enjoy the financial benefits that come with the institution of marriage (gay and lesbian couples also send regards).

And that’s even before you get to the fact that your wife, as a non-Jew, will have to undergo an exhausting, complicated process to arrange her status in Israel, with her temporary status during this period dependent on her relationship with you. And that’s even before we’ve discussed the bureaucratic and social problems that your children are liable to experience.

In addition to the difficulties imposed on you by the laws of the country, you will also have to deal with the country’s residents and their opinions. The leading scholar on mixed marriages is Prof. Sergio Della Pergola, an expert on the demographics of Jewish communities. In an interview with the Mako website about three years ago, he explained: “Israeli society is in essence very conservative, and therefore even those who are in favor of reforms and progressive views, usually, when it comes to personal, intimate life still retain a conservative viewpoint.”

Of course it depends on your immediate surroundings, but the honest answer is that unfortunately, many Israelis will consider you a traitor. Various surveys on the subject indicate that the vast majority of the Jewish community in Israel is opposed to mixed marriages. The half-full cup: At least your partner is Christian, European and white. The opposition to mixed relationships is stronger when it comes to someone who is not white, or when the Jewish side in the relationship is the woman. And if she were an Arab woman, you would find yourselves in danger of being lynched by lovers of the Jewish people like those in Lehava.

Those are the practical considerations. You and she have to decide – together and separately – what is more important. I will conclude only by mentioning an option that you’ve probably considered, but still: Your partner is a resident of the European Union, which gives her, and therefore you as well, the right to live in any of the EU countries. It’s worth considering living in a third country, for example Ireland or Holland. They say that in those miraculous countries people can marry in a civil marriage and receive citizenship without belonging to a specific religion.

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