Academic journal article Sociological Papers

Changing Women's Roles in Jewish Alternative Weddings in Modern Israel

Academic journal article Sociological Papers

Changing Women's Roles in Jewish Alternative Weddings in Modern Israel

Article excerpt

Introduction

According to patriarchal assumptions widely accepted around the world, many rituals in both traditional and modern societies define women's deference and subordination to men. Wedding ritual and marriage generally are one of the central arenas of women's discrimination. The notion of the exchange of women and control over them by men is still enacted in many traditional and modern wedding ceremonies, including those performed in contemporary Israel. Furthermore, in Israel there is no separation between religion and the state and rabbinical courts have exclusive monopoly in matters of marriage and divorce of Jews. The only legally accepted marriage ritual is Orthodox one which does not treat men and women equally. In the frame of Jewish wedding, only the groom betroths the bride by recitation of the betrothal blessing, followed by his addressing to her "you are hereby consecrated unto me", and giving her a ring. The groom commits to the bride with ketubah--a contract specifying his obligations toward his wife, usually signed by him before the beginning of the ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, the groom recites the verse from the Psalms (137:5-6): "If I forget You, O Jerusalem ..." and then he steps on the glass to break it.

According to religious law, women are seen as domestic beings and are excluded from public leadership roles that are mostly ascribed to men. Generally, Jewish Orthodox wedding, as well as many other Jewish formal ritual arenas, is dominated by men. To begin with, Orthodox rabbinical positions are available only to men, and during the wedding only men pronounce the blessings and function as witnesses of the marriage. The bride is invisible because of the veil hiding her face and is inaudible because there is no special ritual utterance intended for her or for other women throughout the wedding ceremony. One of the serious flaws of Orthodox marriage, and of personal law based on the Halacha in general, is obliteration of some basic human rights of the women by construing married women as property of their husbands (Fogiel-Bijaoui, 2003) (1). These aspects of Orthodox marriage have been criticized by researchers coming from a variety of academic fields (Fogiel-Bijaoui, 2003; Elior, 2001; Shifman, 2000; Cohen, 2000). One infamous predicament of Jewish religious marriage is the exclusive power of husbands to give divorce--"get"--or to withhold it from their wives, leading to the problem of agunot, i.e. chained women. They are stuck interminably in marriages which are already dead and forbidden to get married again because of husband's refusal to give "get" or due to his disappearance. If agunah will have a child from another man, the child will be declared mamzer--bastard born of a married woman, a fruit of adultery. Mamserim and their offspring are forbidden to marry other "kosher" Jews for ten generations. By contrast, husbands in this situation are allowed to have children with other unmarried women and even to marry again in certain circumstances (Moller Okin, 2000).

As the only legally accepted option for Jews to marry, Orthodox marriage is prevalent even among the less-religious and secular Israelis, but the number of couples who choose to marry according to alternative rituals is persistently rising (Dobrin, 2006). Because the State officially recognizes only the Orthodox wedding, every ritual deviating from this form is denied recognition from the Rabbinate and Interior Ministry of Israel. These types of non-Orthodox rituals are presented in this study as "alternative" weddings that challenge and criticize the Orthodox pattern or alter some of its main components. Alternative wedding rituals in Israel is a complex phenomena, drawing on at least six interrelated social forces or movements: progressive Judaism, such as Reform and Conservative movements; "return to the Jewish book-shelf" movement among secular Israelis also known as Jewish Renewal Movement; a civic orientation expressed in performance of civil marriages by New Family association; New Age movements involved in performance of spiritual and mystical weddings; the kibbutz movement; and homo-lesbian (queer) movement. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.