Israel's Olympic gold victory raises Jewish identity debate

JERUSALEM (AP) - Artem Dolgopyat fulfilled a lifelong dream by winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. But back home in Israel, his hope of swapping gold wedding rings with his longtime girlfriend seems like an impossible dream.
The Ukrainian-born Israeli gymnast was hailed as a national hero for winning Israel's second gold medal - and the first in artistic gymnastics. The festivities were tempered, however, after his mother complained that the country's authorities refused to marry him because he was not considered a Jew under Orthodox law.
"The state doesn't allow him to marry," Dolgopyat's mother Angela told 103FM in an interview on Sunday.
Your statements hit a sore point in this country, which since its founding as a refuge for Jews 73 years ago has repeatedly struggled with the balance between religion and state.
Under the “Law of Return” anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent is entitled to Israeli citizenship. But while Dolgopyat's father is Jewish, his mother is not. Under “Halacha,” or Jewish religious law, one must have a Jewish mother to be considered a Jew.
This discrepancy has resulted in tens of thousands of people, many of them from the former Soviet Union, living in the country and serving in their army but being excluded from Jewish rituals such as weddings and funerals.
Israel does not have a civil marriage system and Israeli law requires that Jewish marriages be conducted by a rabbi authorized by the chief rabbinate. Christian and Muslim couples also have to marry within their faith.
Those who do not meet the orthodox standards set by the rabbinate - including same-sex couples, interfaith couples, and Israelis who are not considered Jewish by the halacha - cannot marry in Israel. Instead, they have to travel abroad to get married.
Attempts to legalize civil marriage failed time and again due to resistance from politically powerful ultra-orthodox parties.
Dolgopyat's mother told the radio station that her son and his girlfriend have lived together for three years, “but they cannot get married. They have to go abroad, but they don't let him go abroad because he always has to do sport. "
For his part, the Olympic champion tried to downplay the controversy. "These are things that I have in my heart, it is not right to talk about them now," he told reporters in Tokyo.
But Dolgopyat's wedding concerns have dominated public discourse, with politicians and a number of comments debating the issue of civil marriage after Israel.
A 2019 survey by the Israel Democracy Institute found that nearly 60% of Israeli Jews are in favor of civil marriage.
"It is not that Dolgopyat is entitled to marry in Israel because of his rare sporting achievements, but because he is a citizen of a democratic country," wrote Katya Kupchik, an Israeli Hofsheet activist, on the Hebrew news site Ynet. Israel Hofsheet Civil marriage advocates.
"Like hundreds of thousands of others, he should not have to receive approvals or rejections from the chief rabbinate in order to exercise a fundamental right."
Conversely, Yishai Cohen wrote in the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Kikar Hashabbat: "I would not want to live in a country that makes winning a sports medal the measure of conversion" to Judaism. He said conversion required acceptance of "the yoke of the Torah" and the commandments. "
Yair Lapid, Israel's foreign minister, told a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party on Monday that he will "fight in every possible way to get a civil marriage" so that Dolgopyat and others can get married in Israel.
"It is unbearable in my eyes that someone can stand on the podium, listen to Hatikva and win a gold medal in the name of Israel and then not get married here," he said, referring to the country's national anthem. "It is a situation that cannot go on and we will fight for change."
In this article:
Artem Dolgopyat
Ukrainian-born Israeli gymnast

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