When reality TV meets the reality of Israel’s chief rabbi

Two men got married on prime-time television across Israel on Saturday night.

Weddings are not legally binding, not least because same-sex marriage is illegal in the State of Israel. Guy and Matan’s wedding was part of the popular Israeli version of the reality show “Love at First Sight,” in which couples who didn’t know each other agreed to marry on television.

While the U.S. version of the wedding — and some, but not all, adaptations in other countries — is legally binding, Israel’s Keshet broadcaster chose the commitment ceremony from the start.understandable, because There are no civil marriages in Israelbut only religious weddings approved by the chief rabbi – getting a legal divorce brings a lot of worry.

When the show first premiered in Israel in 2017, rabbis derided it as “a desecration of the sanctity of the paramount value of family life and marriage.” So while each couple begins their journey with a titular “wedding,” the ceremony includes a rabbi-like figure, blessing on wine, stepping on a glass, and reciting “If I forget you, Jerusalem” — no Hand over the ring.

A gay couple’s prime-time appearance on Israeli television — one of the country’s most-watched shows — is popular with many as a step towards mainstream acceptance. But it also embodies the stark duality of Israeli culture.

In the U.S. — where same-sex marriage has been legalized nationwide since 2015, and 10 years in some states before that — “Love at First Sight” has never featured a gay couple in its 14 seasons. In the UK – where same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014 – only last year did the show’s sixth season include a same-sex couple. Meanwhile, the Australian version of the show featured a gay couple years before same-sex weddings were legalized in the country.

Gay couples attend a massive same-sex wedding in Tel Aviv on June 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel appears to be both ahead and behind. Netivot held a gay pride parade the same week state television aired the gay couple’s wedding. Cancel after threat. Although Doritos is boycott calls Openly gay TV personality Assi Azar hosts every reality show in Israel after an ad featured a same-sex couple in the ad.

Tel Aviv hosts a raucous and popular gay pride parade every year, but the Jerusalem parade is more of an expression of defiance than a celebration. Gay figures have a prominent place in Israeli culture and politics, but gay couples cannot legally marry in the State of Israel, or even enter into civil unions. (Like other couples who cannot marry through rabbis, gay couples can marry abroad and then register their union with the state).

although polls provided different results Regarding the Israeli public’s stance on gay rights, the majority said the majority supported same-sex couples’ weddings or civil unions.

On “Love at First Sight,” which aired Saturday night, there wasn’t much focus on the contestants’ sexual orientation. In fact, more airtime — just a few episodes earlier — featured a jaw-dropping 44-year-old woman also known as the average Israeli woman (but that’s another column) .

“Love at First Sight” isn’t the only dating show in Israel that has raised objections to the chief rabbi’s monopoly on marriage and divorce in Israel. “New Love,” currently airing on Reshet, recently showcased other concerns about marriage equality in the Jewish state.

One of the four women in “New Love” is Elle, an immigrant from France with a Jewish father but not a mother. Elle is one of about 450,000 officially “unreligious” Israelis – most of whom have been granted citizenship under the Law of Return because they are of Jewish ancestry, but the rabbis do not consider them Jewish .This number may vary with Influx of Ukrainian refugees Eligible for citizenship. All these citizens, close to 5% of the population, simply cannot marry in Israel.

Elle Adida, a French immigrant to Israel, appeared on the dating show “New Love.” (Screenshot/Reshet 13)

On the show, Elle described being teased at school in France for being Jewish, then moving to Israel and feeling like she didn’t belong again.

“I have a strong belief in God…I really feel like I’m Jewish,” Elle said. “I love this religion…I came to this country because I felt it was my country.”

While Elle suggested “maybe one day I’ll convert,” she pointed to her religious status as “the elephant in the room, you can’t ignore it”. Religious issues quickly rose to the forefront when she was paired with Matan, an Israeli from a traditional background.

“As much as I want to ignore the Judaism issue, it’s a very, very important part of me,” explained Matan, who decided to eventually leave the show and Elle, on the issue. “It is important that my partner is Jewish because I am Jewish and because I want my children to be Jewish.”

The question of why the show’s producers would even consider matching Elle to a man who wears tefillin every morning and stays kosher is a valid question, and of course, the unfortunate answer seems to be ratings.

Even on non-dating-related shows — Reshet’s “The Next Restaurant,” which aired earlier this year — the rabbi’s struggles with marriage and divorce came up. One of the contestants, Neta, disclose For more than a year, her current ex-husband refused to give her a geta religious writ for divorce, leaving her bound in the eyes of both Jewish law and the state.

The question of the authenticity of so-called reality TV shows can be debated endlessly, and there’s no denying that much of it is scripted, heavily edited, and far from “real.” Still, there’s nothing controversial about using the platform in this way — even if the ultimate goal is ratings — to showcase and humanize Israelis who continue to fight against the rabbinic monopoly on marriage.

If Keshet thought enough people would boycott the show, Keshet probably wouldn’t have taken the risk of including a same-sex couple in “Love at First Sight.” The legal status quo in the country — which shows no signs of changing anytime soon — is out of tune not only with the newest contestants of these dating shows, but with the majority of their audiences.

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