I'm Israeli, not Jewish, it's official

October 10, 2011
Sarah Benton

Israeli writer now ‘without religion’

By Anshel Pfeffer, Jewish Chronicle

Dozens of Israelis have requested the deletion of the word “Jewish” from their Interior Ministry registration this week, following a court ruling last week allowing writer Yoram Kaniuk to do so.

Mr Kaniuk, 81, an Independence war veteran, boulevardier and chronicler of Israel’s first years, has been fighting a legal battle for the last six months to change his “religion” status with the Interior Ministry’s Population Registry. He says that he never “considered myself a religious Jew” and that since he is married to a non-Jewish woman, he wants to have the same status as his children and grandchildren.

Tel Aviv District Court judge Gideon Ginat ordered the Interior Ministry to accede to Mr Kaniuk’s wishes and reclassify him as “without religion.” His “nationality” status on the registry will remain Jewish.

Following the ruling, lawyer Yael Katz-Mastbaum, who represented Mr Kaniuk, has received dozens of requests from Israelis who wish to go down the same path and register themselves as “without religion”.

“These are not people who have anything against Judaism,” she explained, “they are proud Israelis who don’t want the religious definition forced upon them.”

The Interior Ministry, currently headed by Shas leader Eli Yishai, has yet to respond or appeal against the ruling. Until now, Israeli law has only recognised as “without religion” new immigrants who are not accepted as Jews by the chief rabbinate, and who did not specify any other religious identity.

There was no definition of “atheist” and Jewish Israelis could not relinquish their affiliation. Nor did Israel recognise “civil” marriages performed in its territory, until an amendment to the law last year which allowed immigrants “without religion” to marry each other.

Since thousands of Israeli couples travel abroad each year to marry in civil ceremonies, last week’s ruling may open the way to more of them doing so without leaving Israel. It may even spark a long overdue debate on the nature and relationship between Jewish and Israeli identities.

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