The Orthodox Monopoly on Marriage in Israel



I was not at my son’s official wedding.  Ariel and his wife got married in Cyprus. They made this choice not because of the country’s wonderful sights and romantic scenery, but because they wanted to be able to marry outside of the framework of the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

The Chief Rabbinate holds a monopoly on all Jewish marriages in Israel. There is no civil marriage, which leaves an Orthodox marriage as the only option for Jewish couples in Israel.  This means that the ceremony is often performed by a rabbi who does not know the couple personally. It means stringent gender roles including pre-marital classes for women, and no option for LGBT marriages.

Ariel’s marriage is part of a shift we are seeing in Israeli society of thousands of Jews who choose to be married outside of this system.  “I was born in Israel, and fulfilled my obligations –I served in the Israeli army and paid my taxes. Why was I not given the right to decide how to get married in Israel? Why do I need to lie about our lifestyle and about something as intimate as the first day of my wife’s period to get married?”

At least my son had a choice. The many restrictions imposed upon marriage and the lack of a civil marriage option in Israel means that hundreds of thousands of Jewish citizens whose Jewish status is not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate are unable to wed legally in their own country. This situation is unparalleled in any other democratic country.

Over 20,000 Israeli couples get married outside of Israel every year.  On their flight to Cyprus, Ariel and his wife observed that the plane was filled with Israelis who were also going there for a civil marriage.  The Israelis waited in line together, took photos of one-another, and sat together at a nearby Haagen-Dazs for celebratory ice cream afterwards.

IRAC knows that Israelis want and deserve control over one of the most important aspects of their life. IRAC has introduced various marriage bills in an effort to permit Israeli couples to marry outside of the religious establishments.  Last night, Einat Hurvitz, the head of our legal department, and Shelly Yechimovitz, the former head of the Labor party, spoke about the necessity of freedom of marriage to young Israelis in Jerusalem.  They need to know; it doesn’t have to be this way.
P.S. I am seeking a large used ship, a captain, and a few willing rabbis to launch a loveboat that will travel in and out of Israeli territorial waters to perform marriage ceremonies until our law passes in Knesset.

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Anat Hoffman

About Anat Hoffman

Anat Hoffman is executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel.

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  1. Religion in Israel: Democracy and Pluralism Must go Hand in Hand | Fresh Updates from RAC - August 25, 2014

    […] marry outside of the country. For example, Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of IRAC, described in a compelling article the marriage of her son outside of Israel due to these restrictive personal status laws. Hoffman […]

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