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In push against Rabbinate, fewer Israelis married in recognized ceremonies

In this Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017 photo, Rabbi Chuck Davidson holds a wedding service in Ein Hemed. A growing number of Israeli couples are defying the country’s Chief Rabbinate and marrying in unsanctioned weddings. The couples include people who have diff
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
Israel is a secular state under many respects but enforces religious law on marriage, divorce, and burial

Fewer Israeli Jews are marrying through the Chief Rabbinate, according to a report published by Israel’s Religious Services Ministry on Monday.

The Rabbinate is the sole authority in Israel in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial and only marriages under the auspices of the Rabbinate are officially recognized by the state. The 6.2 percent decrease in couples registered to marry through the Rabbinate in 2018 - compared to a 4.7 percent drop in 2017 - may indicate Israeli Jews are less and less concerned with the Rabbinate’s authority.

According to the ministry report, 35, 163 couples registered to marry through the Rabbinate in 2018.

The ministry attributed the change primarily to a corresponding increase in couples choosing to get married in Israel in non-recognized ceremonies.

In many instances, Israelis are choosing to get married in ceremonies officiated by non-Orthodox or otherwise non-recognized Rabbis. However, there is no official record of how many couples are choosing this, as such ceremonies cannot be registered for state census at the Interior Ministry.

There has been a corresponding decrease in couples choosing to be wed civil ceremonies abroad, in which case they are able to register their marriage with the Population Registry when they return, unlike couples who choose civil marriage in country.

AP Photo/Petros Karadjias

Uri Keidar, the director of Be Free Israel, an organization dedicated to legalizing civil marriage responded to the report, saying: “The drastic drop in the number of Israelis marrying through the Rabbinate shows there is no reason not to pass a law on the first day of the next Knesset legalizing civil marriage in this country.”

“The Israeli public is already there, and it’s about time that the politicians who pretend to represent us stop being afraid and start legislating what is long overdue,” he added.

Israel is a secular state under many respects but enforces religious law on marriages, banning civil or inter-faith weddings and even disqualifying religious unions not sanctioned by an official body, be it Muslim, Jewish or Christian. Same-sex marriages are also not recognized.

Not only are unions performed by Israel’s Reform or Conservative rabbis disqualified, but Orthodox rabbis not recognized and vetted by the Chief Rabbinate who perform weddings in Israel are considered to be breaking the law and could face two years in prison if convicted. So far, the law has never been enacted, but attempts to strike it down have also failed.

AP Photo/Dan Perry

Another way to comply with the rules without performing a traditional marriage is getting a "common-law marriage" but the rights granted to the couple are not the same as those granted to a traditional marriage.

In recent years, the number of Israelis barred from marriage or whose Jewishness is considered in need of "clarification" has ballooned.

In 2015 and 2016 the Chief Rabbinate reportedly added around 900 names to a list of individuals who are considered Jewish by the government, but not Jewish enough to marry or access some other religious services.

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