Interfaith Marriage…in Israel and Lebanon

Mediterranean Coastline--photo Susan Katz Miller

If you think being intermarried in the United States is challenging, consider what it would be like in the Middle East. This week’s Economist has an interesting article about the prohibition on interfaith marriages in Lebanon. Couples who are Muslim and Druze Christian, or Jewish and Greek Orthodox, must fly to Cyprus, half an hour away, to tie the knot. That’s because there is no provision for civil marriage in Lebanon.

I raised my eyebrows at the mention of Cyprus. As a “patrilineal” half-Jew, Cyprus already has dark resonance for me. In Israel, I am not a “legal” Jew despite learning Hebrew, becoming a Bat Mitzvah, and all of the sacrifices made by my Christian mother to raise me without any Christian influence. But if I marry in Israel, I have to fly to Cyprus to do it. If I die in Israel, I have to fly to Cyprus to be buried. Is it any wonder I have deep ambivalence about Israel?

Speaking of Israel, the government there unveiled a campaign this week against interfaith marriage, comparing those who have married non-Jews to abducted missing persons. And yes, I know all the arguments for why a tiny and embattled religious minority feels the need to define and guard its tribal identity. Many of us believe that this aggressive and exclusive stance will drive away more “could be Jews” than it will attract. And it is simply offensive.

Meanwhile, newsflash–people from different religions are going to continue to marry each other, and even have the chutzpah to create children together. So be thankful if you live in the USA, where we have civil marriage, the right to raise our children as we please, and the right to be buried in our own country.

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4 Comments on “Interfaith Marriage…in Israel and Lebanon”


  1. The Israelis just announced that they have pulled the plug on the “missing persons” ad campaign. The outrage expressed by Jewish American bloggers had an impact–particularly strong pieces posted at The Forward and interfaithfamily.com.


  2. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for the interesting post. As an FYI, I just finished two years of work on a film that explores marriage in Israel and the role of the Chief Rabbinate in the state. You might find it interesting – http://www.facesthemovie.com

    Good luck to you!

  3. Sara Says:

    I had no idea about the marriage and burial laws – it seems, to a complete outsider, like a self-defeating policy.

  4. Judy Says:

    The Israeli gay community is fighting similar prejudice. There are civil arrangements that are legal in Israel thanks to the gay community’s perseverance.


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