The Right to Marry in Israel: An Anti-Miscegenation Law Masquerading as Traditional Religious Values

By Jacob N. Simon[1]


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[2]


I.              Introduction

By and large anti-miscegenation[3] statutes, like those contained in the Nuremburg Laws of Nazi Germany,[4] and the Jim Crow laws of the Southern United States,[5] were left behind in the Twentieth Century. However, anti-miscegenation appears to be alive and well in the Jewish State of Israel where all marriages must be performed by religious officials,[6] and interreligious marriage is strictly prohibited.[7]  This religious based restriction on marriage becomes the equivalent to an anti-miscegenation law when the bloodline requirement to be considered Jewish enough for marriage to another Jew by the Orthodox Jewish Rabbinical Court is also taken into account.

Those who follow Israel politics closely should not be shocked to learn that the Rabbinical Courts have become even more hostile in recent years to Jewish converts and the children of Jewish converts. A recent United Nations report has accused Israel of establishing "an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole."[8]  Similarly, Israel’s treatment of people who cannot readily prove that their Jewish bloodline or conversion to Judaism in a way that complies with halakha,[9] is rapidly detreating.[10] 

II.            The Genocidal Consequences of the Rabbinical Court’s Desire to Maintain Purity of Blood


The combination of the blood line related requirements to be considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinical Court and the restriction of marriage requiring religious ceremonies shows an intent to maintain race purity. At its core, this is no different than the desire for pure blooded Aryans in Nazi Germany or pure blooded whites in the Jim Crow Southern United States. 

This is particularly troubling because the Nuremburg Laws of Nazi Germany were designed to prevent the decline of the Aryan race from interbreeding with Jews, but it also worked to discriminate against Jews and isolate them from the rest of German society.[11]  These laws were part of the first few actions that the Nazi’s took after their ascent to power.[12] This contributed to the Holocaust by dehumanizing the Jewish people, which made it easier for other Germans to become complicit with the extermination of the Jewish people later on.[13]

Similarly, the anti-miscegenation statues of the Jim Crow South United States also sought to maintain the purity of the white race,[14] and these laws also worked to dehumanize African Americans and isolate them from the rest of society.[15]  This may have been a contributing factor to the lynch mobs that murdered thousands of African Americans, often without consequence.

In light of the millions who lost their lives in the holocaust, and the thousands who lost their lives to lynch mobs, race purity laws should not be taken lightly.  Thus, Israel’s approach to marriage should be closely watched and scrutinized 

III.         My Personal Struggle

The marriage law is at odds with the Law of Return, which provides Israeli citizenship to any Jew in the world who has a “desire to settle is Israel.”[16] The marriage law is also at odds with what it means for many people like myself to be considered Jewish.

My parents were married on October 29, 1989, at Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The Rabbi and all of the members of the conservative synagogue recognized my father’s Jewish heritage because he was born into it.  They also recognized my mother’s Jewish conversion because it was performed by the Rabbis of the conservative synagogue, including the one who was performing their marriage ceremony.

On August 18, 1992, I was born, and on August 23, 1992, pursuant to tradition and the laws of Judaism, I had a traditional bris (circumcision ceremony/covenant) performed by a Mohel.[17] At that moment I began my journey into Judaism just as my (paternal) ancestors had for the past 5700 years.  On August 25, 2005, after years of studying Hebrew and the Torah, I had my Bar Mitzvah.

Pursuant to Israel’s Law of Return, I am entitled to Israeli citizenship as a matter of birthright.[18] However, because my mother was a convert to Judaism outside of an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue, I would almost certainly be denied the ability to marry another Jew by the Rabbinical Court.  In fact, even if I became an Israeli citizen through birthright pursuant to the Law of Return, I would likely be considered too Jewish (absent a conversion to Christianity or Islam) to marry someone who is not Jewish, and yet not Jewish enough to meet the Rabbinical Court’s requirements to marry another Jew.

IV.          Conclusion

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[19] The current status of marriage law in Israel is strikingly similar to laws that fostered genocide and discrimination in Nazi Germany and the Jim Crow Southern United States. While it has been clear for decades that the Jewish state was going to be hostile to the basic human rights of Palestinians,[20] it appears that the hostility has now turned within the Jewish community as well. Further, this complicates the already controversial concept of what it means to be a Jew.


[1] Jacob N. Simon studied Hebrew, Tora, and the Jewish religion generally for 5-years as part of his Bar Matzah training.  He has also served as the President of the Jewish Legal Society at the Michigan State University College of Law.

[2] Santayana, George, The Life of Reason (1905-1906) Vol. I, Reason and Common Sense, as quoted in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 15th Ed., at 703.

[3] Miscegenation is the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types.

[4] Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor September 15, 1935. “Moved by the understanding that purity of German blood is the essential condition for the continued existence of the German people, and inspired by the inflexible determination to ensure the existence of the German nation for all time, the Reichstag has unanimously adopted the following law . . . . Marriages between Jews and subjects of the state of German or related blood are forbidden.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, (accessed Mar. 16, 2017), (Translated from Reichsgesetzblatt I, 1935, 1146-7).

[5] Before it was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court, Virginia’s miscegenation statute stated: “[i]f any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years.” Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 4 (1967).

[6] Ziv Triger, Freedom From Religion in Israel: Civil Marriages and Cohabitation of Jew Enter the Rabbinical Courts, 27 Israel Studies Rev. 2, 5 (Winter 2012).

[7] Id. However, interreligious marriages performed outside of the country are recognized as civil marriage. Israel does not grant civil marriages, rather, it only respects civil marriages from other countries.

[8] Ben White, U.N. report: Israel has established an ‘apartheid regime,’ Mar. 15, 2017, Aljazeera,

[9] Halakah is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the Torah.

[10] Gershom Gorenberg, How Do You Prove You’re a Jew?, The New York Times Magazine, Mar. 2, 2008, Gorenberg illustrates the difficulty of obtaining permission to marry from the Rabbinical Court through one woman’s struggle to prove that she is in fact a Jew. Gorenberg notes that in the past the Rabbinical Court presumed all applicants were honest, however, in recent years the burden of proof has shifted to the applicant. This is especially true for American immigrants, due to the relaxed interpretation of “who is a Jew” in American Conservative and Reformed Synagogues.

[11] Nathan Stoltzfus, Societal Influences on the Promulgation and Enforcement of the Nuremburg Laws, 94 Soundings: An Interdisc. J. 375, 379 (Fall/Winter 2011).

[12] Id. at 378.

[13] Id. at 379.

[14] Alfred Avins, Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent, 52 Va. L. Rev. 1224, 1228 (Nov. 1966).

[15] Id. at 1250-51.

[16] Right of Aliyah. Passed by the Knesset on the 20th Tammuz, 5710 (5th July, 1950) and published in Sefer Ha­Chukkim No. 51 of the 21st Tammuz, 5710 (5th July. 1950), p. 159; the Bill and an Explanatory Note were published in Hatza'ot Chok No. 48 of the 12th Tammuz, 5710 (27th June, 1950), p. 189.

[17] A Jew trained in the practice of the convenient of circumcision.

[18] Supra note 16.

[19] Santayana, supra note 2.

[20] White, supra note 8.