In a ruling on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, an Israeli court granted author Yoram Kaniuk permission to be classed as "without religion." A ruling that some are calling "a giant step toward separation of religion and state," according to Haaretz.
The 81-year-old writer, who can now classify himself as Jewish by nationality, but not religion, told the newspaper that he was "thrilled" about the court's decision made on Sept. 28.
Before the ruling, a person needed to prove that he or she was not Jewish in order to be classified as "without religion."
Kaniuk brought the request to the court in May after the Interior Ministry told him he couldn't alter his religious status without proper documentation, AFP reports. Kaniuk never identified himself as a religious Jew and didn't want to be classified as having a religion.
The author is married to a Christian-American woman, and his grandson is listed as "without religion" since his mother isn't considered Jewish by the Ministry, the Jerusalem Post points out. Kanuik wanted to be able to share in the same classification by choice, not because of family history.
"Israel registers its citizens according to both their religion and their ethnicity, although it does not include an “Israeli” ethnicity, labeling its Jewish citizens as of "Jewish" ethnicity," the AFP points out.
Haaretz further explains the situation:
Currently Jewish Israelis can only marry other Jews in the country under the auspices of the Orthodox rabbinate. A law was passed last year that allows civil unions and considers them as marriage for all intents and purposes - but only under special, limited circumstances in which both parties are registered as having no religion.
The legislation was criticized for not allowing people to marry in a religious ceremony because they are not of the same religion, and for not allowing people who do not want a religious ceremony to get married in Israel.
The judge ruled that Kaniuk and all citizens had "the right to freedom from religion as protected by the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom," the JTA explains.
An opinion piece published in Haaretz questions how many people will opt to have their religious classification altered and what it would mean for Israel: "Will we become a state without a religion instead of a Jewish state?"