Israel’s second-ever Olympic gold medalist, Artem Dolgopyat, cannot legally get married in his home country, as he is not Jewish by the standards of the Chief Rabbinate, his mother lamented on Sunday, while the country celebrated its new national hero.
In an interview with 103FM Radio, Dolgopyat’s mother Angela Bilan said: “The state does not let him get married. He has a girlfriend and they have lived together for three years, but he cannot get married.”
Bilan explained that Dolgopyat would need to travel abroad to have a civil marriage, which would be recognized by the state, but added that this was made difficult by his busy sports schedule.
Dolgopyat’s mother is not Jewish, but the entirety of his father’s side is, she said.
At least one Jewish grandparent is required in order to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen.
But getting married as a Jew through the Chief Rabbinate, the only possibility in Israel, requires that both parties be Jewish according to Orthodox practice — i.e., having a Jewish mother.
As Israel has no civil marriage, a growing number of Israeli couples are choosing to register their marriages abroad.
Dolgopyat won support from Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, himself an immigrant from the former Soviet Union and an Olympic athlete.
“Israeli citizens, no matter where they are born, should not need to undergo a tedious and humiliating process in order to get approval or rejection from the Rabbinate in order to get married,” Razvozov tweeted.
“The pride of Israel on the podium, but a second class citizen under the hupa,” he said referring to a Jewish wedding canopy. “It is not logical that the Rabbinate of the same country that Artem Dolgopyat represents with honor does not allow him basic civil rights like getting married in Israel.”
Dolgopyat’s fiancee, Maria Seikovitch, told Channel 12 on Monday that he proposed to her last year, showed her ring to the cameras, and said he “understood the rules of the game” regarding Israeli marriage laws.
In addition to many immigrants from mixed families or ones that are not recognized as Jewish, those unable to wed in Israel also include gays and lesbians, non-Orthodox converts to Judaism, and various others.
Dolgopyat, a 24-year-old two-time world championship silver medalist who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine at the age of 12, was considered Israel’s best hope for a gold medal at this year’s Games.
His final round routine Sunday impressed judges, scoring 14.933, level with but judged more difficult than that of Spain’s Rayderley Miguel Zapata, who thus took silver, and ahead of China’s Xiao Ruoteng, who won bronze.
The gold medal is only the second in Israeli history, following windsurfer Gal Fridman’s 2004 win in Athens.
Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, rang out as the Israeli gymnast accepted his medal to huge applause.
He was feted by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog, both of whom called him to congratulate him for the win.