The lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis stand to be changed by two pieces of legislation reported in today’s Ha’aretz. The first, the lead item on the front page, is a government-backed bill concerning couples who seek legal recognition of their union—without having to wed under the auspices of the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel or undergo a civil marriage outside the country.
The bill does not specify the sex of the members of the couple and thus would apply to same-sex unions. It would also apply to couples whose members are of different faiths and therefore cannot be wed in Israel, where marriage is in the hands of the clergy. This is especially important for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were allowed to become citizens under the Law of Return because they have at least one Jewish grandparent but who are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinate because they are not born of a Jewish mother. In Israel they cannot marry Jews. Having to bypass these strictures by undergoing a civil marriage abroad (Cyprus has a thriving wedding-package business based on Israelis) is both humiliating and expensive.
This bill has a long way to go before it becomes law, but it is a promising start. Meanwhile, an amendment to another law has already been passed by the Ministerial Legislation Committee, but this piece of life-changing news was buried at the bottom of page 5, perhaps because it will affect a much smaller number of people.
The amendment allows the courts to free adoptive Jewish parents of a non-Jewish child from having to prove that they are living as Orthodox Jews. Israeli law allows adoption only of a child that is the same religion as the adoptive parents. But until now, adoptive parents who had brought a child from abroad and sought to convert that child in Israel were required to adopt an Orthodox way of life and to send the child to Orthodox schools.
Now the courts may rule that what is best for the child does not require a punctilious examination of the “Jewishness” of the adoptive parents.
This item touched me because it brought to mind something I had written for The Jerusalem Post in 1996. In those days the paper ran occasional profiles of special-needs children in need of adoption. The peak of my journalistic career was learning that one of the children I had written about was adopted by a family in the north of the country.
But another child I fell in love with most likely ended up in an institution because he was born of a Christian mother and the law, as it stood then, meant that he could be adopted only by a Christian family, or, if he was to be converted to Judaism, an Orthodox family or one that was willing to adopt an Orthodox way of life—thus severely limiting the pool of potential adoptive families. This was Daniel, as I described him then:
“Daniel is a beautiful child. With his lithe body, large brown eyes, broad smile and golden-brown skin, it’s easy to imagine him acting the happy child in a breakfast-cereal commercial.
“But Daniel’s life has been anything but happy. Born in Europe and brought here by adoptive parents who then decided they couldn’t care for him, he lives in a temporary home run by the government adoption service.
“Each day this seven-year-old hopes a new family will come and give him a real home. He has even drawn pictures of the family he hopes will someday love him. But time is running out for Daniel. If an adoptive family can’t be found soon, he will have to be sent to an institution.”
The law made it virtually impossible for that Daniel to find a family, but the amendment can save the Daniels of today.
Text copyright 2013 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.