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Information and Resources on Marriage in Israel

Freedom of Choice in Marriage

How does it work today?

Israel inherited its system of registering marriage from the Ottoman Empire via the British. Under this system only religious authorities — the Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate, mosques and churches — have the power to officiate marriages.

What are some implications of the current legal situation?

Israeli weddings performed privately (i.e. not performed by a member of the local Rabbinate) are not recognized by the state. This includes:

·         Reform, Conservative and Secular ceremonies,

·         Marriage of gay couples,

·         Marriage of a Cohen and a divorcee,

·         Marriage of a Cohen and a convert

·         Marriage between a Jew and "a person of no religion"/ or of "questionable Halachic background" (not recognized as Jewish by the rabbinate, including over 300,000 Israeli citizens from former Soviet Union)

All of the above do not entitle a couple to a marriage certificate and are ineffective for registration and other economic benefits such as residence, health, education, insurance and taxation. The Law establishes criminal punishment (up to six months imprisonment) for anyone who performs a wedding ceremony without the Rabbinate (however, up to date, this law was never enacted).

What about marriages performed outside Israel?

Marriages performed for Jews outside of Israel that are valid in the foreign country in which they were performed receive retroactive recognition by the State of Israel. This includes civil marriages and non-Orthodox marriages.

Today, Cyprus is the most popular destination for Israelis seeking to get married abroad due to its close proximity. Also, Cyprus is well aware of the lack of civil marriage in Israel and has developed a significant industry to provide this service to the many thousands of Israelis that come there every year to be married.

The Ministry of the Interior Affairs must register as married all couples who married in a civil marriage abroad, even if either or both of the couple were citizens of Israel.

If a couple who married abroad, and was then registered as married by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior Affairs , wishes to get a divorce- they must do so only through the central Rabbinate.

Some numbers:

·         Over 300,000 tax paying, army serving citizens of Israel, most of them from the former Soviet Union- are considered  "a person of no religion"/ or of "questionable Halachic background". They can marry in Israel only if they marry a partner of "their kind". 48% of them marry "kosher" Jews, and therefore must marry abroad.

·         10% of Israeli citizens marry abroad (i.e. over 80,000 Israelis in the last decade).

·         74% of Israelis who marry abroad are Jews.

·         24% of Israelis who marry abroad are "a person of no religion"/ or of "questionable Halachic background".

·         According to Orthodox Halacha which prevails in the Rabbinical Courts, only a husband can grant the wife a Jewish divorce (a "Get"). Under the auspices and encouragement of the Rabbinate, thousands of women in Israel have been refused a "Get" (and therefore cannot remarry – sometimes for many years).

·         63% of Jewish population in Israel supports Civil and Non-Orthodox marriage.

What is being done?

The Forum for Freedom of Choice in Marriage, established in 1999, brings together 23 organizations (including 2 new members- orthodox feminist organizations). The Forum is coordinated by IRAC (Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform movement).

In October 2011 the Forum submitted an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court, demanding that the State adopts administrative measures to create a legal channel for civil marriage in Israel, at least for couples from different religions and the 300,000 immigrants from FSU who are not recognized as Jews by the Rabbinate.

The partners claim that the government is authorized under current legislation to create civil venue of marriage, and choosing not to use this power, in the face of the gross violation of the right to freedom of religion and the right to family, and the hundreds of thousands who cannot get married at all under the current regime – is not legal.

While this has been the legal situation for the last 63 years, the normative and factual situation changed: the level of human rights abuse is much higher now both because of the number of people who are affected by this regime (i.e. FSU immigrants), and the status of the rights being violation has changed to being constitutional rights.


The Forum has a bill, which is being submitted (and voted against) in every Knesset for the past decade.

A creative viral media campaign took place in 2011, under the title "One frame does not fit all"

Liberal movements and communities in Israel promote options of marriage outside the Rabbinate. Developing secular/reform/conservative rituals for couples who wish to marry in a Liberal Jewish ceremony. Other couples choose to sign a "common law" or various couplehood contracts and agreement. All of these options attract up to 5,000 couples a year in Israel.

What more can be done?

At a time when 2/3 of the Jewish population in Israel supports civil an non-orthodox marriage, yet the Knesset continues to ignore the voice of the people- the main challenge is to raise the political "price" that the different parties will pay if they will not support civil and non-orthodox marriage in Israel (today they are risking paying a political price only if they do support civil and non-orthodox marriage in Israel). In the coming 2013 elections, every MK should now that voting against civil and non-orthodox marriage in Israel will cost him a political price.

We must:

·         Keep the issue of the right to free marriage in the media and public discourse.

·         Continue promoting the struggle for free marriage through the court.

·         Encourage more Israeli couples to marry outside the rabbinate.

·         Recruit the support of the Russian speaking community, who are among the sectors who most suffer from the situation.

·         Recruit the support of American Jewry  - the  successful blocking of the conversion bill, last year – with the active involvement of American Jewry – shows the potential of American Jewry's involvement if the Marriage issue.

What is the connection to world Jewry?

Most of North American Jews are affiliated with Liberal congregations, the ceremonies performed by Rabbis on these congregations are not acknowledged by the Jewish state. In fact, the state of Israel in among the few places in the world where Jews (especially non-orthodox Jews) are discriminated against.

When thinking of future generations- people wishing to register for marriage in Israel are obligated to bring their parents' proof of Jewish marriage (Ketuba). If one's parents were married by a Conservative or Reform Rabbi in the United States- they will have tremendous trouble when registering for a Jewish marriage in Israel.

This is a struggle about the Jewish face of the Jewish state.

Legislation in the area of personal status made in Israel touches on the lives of the Jewish people, now and in the future, in Israel and around the world!


More information and current updates about issues surrounding marriage in Israel

Comparative Models for Transitioning from Religious to Civil Marriage Systems

Individuals are subject to the laws of the religious community to which they belong, which means that five different Israeli citizens might be subject to five completely different systems of law governing marriage and family. In addition to this divide, “the legal settlement of family law matters is split between religious and civil law.” Thus, while the laws of marriage and divorce are governed exclusively by religious law, most other aspects of family law (including child custody, adoption, property and inheritance) are regulated by civil law. However, the line marking the boundary between where civil law governs and where religious law governs is not always distinct. Civil and religious law can be complementary, parallel, duplicative, or contradictory.


The Influence of Participation in Democratic Processes on Religious Parties

Israel is one of the few Western democracies in which the lack of separation between religion and state is expressed in a substantial institutionalization of religion. Which is to say that despite its secular character, religious coercion in Israel is rife: first, toward secular Jews whose marriage, divorce and personal status is contingent upon Orthodox rabbinical confirmation and, second, toward non-Orthodox branches of Judaism that are systematically obstructed and delegitimized by the official rabbinate.


Religion, Politics and Gender Equality Among Jews in Israel

While the Rabbinical Courts Law has not been a novel creation of the newly established Jewish state, but rather an embodiment (albeit with some expansion) of the religious personal status regime carried over as a legacy of the Ottoman rule in Palestine through the British Mandate unto the State of Israel, it has come to represent the focal point of Israel's identity as a state for the Jewish people.


The Spousal Registry

According to the proposal, couples that would seek to live together with legal implications, without getting married, will register as a couple in the Spousal Registrar. An additional category will be added to the population registry, and to Israeli I.D. cards, that would indicate that these people belonged to this official category. Restrictions on registration will subsequently be civil in their nature (for example, age and familial restrictions, and the prohibition against married individuals from registering). Accordingly, individuals that were prevented from entering marriage by religious law – including Kohanim with divorcees, bastards, and interfaith couples - could now register in the Spousal Registrar.


Tzohar - A Window Between Two Worlds

Tzohar was established in the wake of the deep crisis in Israeli society caused by the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. This crisis focused a great deal of anger on religious Zionism, and especially on its rabbis. They see as a mission what they have been doing for the non-religious segments of society. The organization’s activities are based on identification with and loyalty to the State of Israel, while maintaining Jewish Tradition, Halacha, as it has been maintained throughout Jewish history.


Tzohar’s rabbis officiate at one-fifth of the weddings performed in Israel today, and have performed approximately 15,000 weddings since the organization was founded. 


Israel’s chief rabbi responds to Haaretz's ‘Without the Rabbinate’ series on Orthodox Jews

(Haaretz) November 25, 2011. What does the rabbi say to the couples who are choosing to get married privately?

Amar: "I think that every person who loves Israel and who loves our people wants to see a settled and secure people…

"And really, but really, a very great thing has been done, in spite of all of the arguments and in spite of all of the disputes: There is an organized Rabbinate, there are organized religious courts that are well arranged. They now set the pace for the religious courts outside Israel.

The opinion of the chief rabbi did not change at all when he was asked to comment on a completely different group, that of the rabbis of the Tzohar organization, who still highly regard state religious authority and are not prepared to break away from the Chief Rabbinate. Regarding them, as well, Amar said that they are the descendants of Korah, filled with "an inclination to argue."


State looks on as religious leaders gain authority

(Haaretz) November 18, 2011. The difficulties the chief rabbis have placed upon Tzohar rabbis are another reflection of the internal religious struggle in the rabbinical establishment. This struggle is taking place between the factizon subordinate to the leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis and a group endeavoring to preserve religious Zionist principles as well as the status quo between it and the state.


Rabbinate vs. Tzohar, round 2

(Ynet) November 16, 2011. After modern Orthodox organization and social services minister resolve crisis, Rabbinate decides to enforce regulation preventing many of Tzohar's rabbis from conducting wedding ceremonies.


Has the Chief Rabbinate outlived its usefulness?

(JPost) November 12, 2011. There is a profound distinction between the national and religious covenants: citizens of a nation-state are bound by laws promulgated by the legislative, judiciary bodies of that polity.


Women Plaintiffs in Rabbinical Courts: The Struggle to Solve the Problems of Mesoravot Get [women denied a divorce] - Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

In order to understand the problematics of women in Jewish divorce, it is important to understand two important principles: the woman's dependence on the get in order to re –marry, and the importance placed by the poskim (rabbinical judges) on the "desire of the husband" in giving the divorce. According to Halacha (Jewish law), a married women continues to have the status of 'married' until she is divorced or until her husband dies and mere separation of the couple does not constitute divorce. A married woman who has relations with another man is considered an adulterer, and any children from this new union will be considered mamzerim (halachically illegitimate)--they and their descendents may never marry into the Jewish community. On the other hand, a married man who has relations with another woman is not considered an adulterer as long as she is not married, and his children from her will not be mamzerim