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Marriage in Israel: Wikis


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Marriages in Israel are performed under the auspices of the religious authority of the religious community to which couples belong. The system is based on the Millet or confessional community system inherited from the times of the Ottoman Empire and not substantially modified during the British Mandate period nor since the establishment of the State of Israel. The system is also in use by several Muslim countries of the Middle East and beyond.

The religious authority for Jewish marriages is the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and there are parallel authorities for Christians, Muslims and Druze communities. Each authority regulates marriages and divorces for their own community. There is no provision for inter-faith marriages.

One of the functions of the Israeli Interior Ministry is the registration of marriages. It has no role in the recognition or validation of marriages, provided appropriate proof of marriage is produced.

Israel makes no provision for civil marriages to be entered into in Israel. However, civilian marriages entered into abroad, including same-sex marriages, are recognised by the state.[1] The issue of civil marriages is a major issue for secular Jews, as well as members of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, who are required to meet the Orthodox standards to be capable of marrying in Israel.[2] There is a debate over whether civil marriages would divide the Jewish people in Israel by increasing inter-faith marriages and marriages which do not meet halakhic requirements, and over the character of the Jewish state.


The confessional system

Under the Ottoman Empire all matters of a religious nature and personal status, which included marriage, were within the jurisdiction of Muslim courts and the courts of other recognized religions, called confessional communities, under a system known as Millet. Capitulation Treaties also permitted the registration of marriages and divorces in the British, German, American and other consulates during the Ottoman period. Jewish religious matters were handled by the Hakham Bashi and the Jewish courts.

Article 14 of the British Mandate of Palestine required the mandatory administration to establish a commission to study, define, and determine the rights and claims relating to the different religious communities in Palestine. Article 15 required the mandatory administration to see to it that complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship were permitted. Those mandates were never enforced or put into effect. The High Commissioner established the Orthodox Rabbinate and retained a modified Millet system which only recognized eleven religious communities: Muslims, Jews and nine Christian denominations (none of which were Christian Protestant churches). All those who were not members of these recognised communities were excluded from the Millet arrangement, and "marriages" conducted in Palestine outside these communities were not recognised. Consular marriages remained customary during the British Mandate and civil divorces granted in other countries were registered and recognized by the mandatory administration. Provision was made for the registration of marriages,[3] but not for the manner in which marriages would be conducted.

It has been argued that the Ottomans and the British did not contemplate a situation in which a person who belonged to one of the recognized communities would want to be married in a non-religious ceremony within that community. It has been claimed that there was no opposition to religious marriages when the religious courts were given authority in these matters. However, no provision was made for those people who were not members of any of the recognised communities, nor for inter-community marriages.


Jewish community

In 1947, David Ben Gurion and the religious parties reached an agreement, which included an understanding that matters of personal status in Israel, which included marriage, would continue to be determined by religious authorities. This arrangement has been termed the status quo agreement and has been maintained despite numerous changes of government since.

Under the arrangement, the Mandate period confessional system would continue, with membership in the Jewish community being on the basis of membership of a body called "Knesset Israel", which was a voluntary organization which managed registrations of people who were related to it - that is, those recognised as Jews. There does not seem to have been any dispute at the time of who was a Jew. Jews could choose not to register with "Knesset Israel". Members of Agudath Israel, for example, chose not to register.

Prior to 1953, "Knesset Israel" courts had authority over those Jews registered with it. However, in 1953, rabbinical courts were established with jurisdiction over matters of marriage and divorces of all Jews in Israel, nationals and residents. (section 1) It was also provided that marriages and divorces of Jews in Israel would be conducted according to the law of the Torah. (section 2)

Since 1953, the rabbinate has only approved religious marriages in Israel conducted in accordance with the Orthodox interpretation of halakha. The changes were applauded by religious Jews, but have been criticized by secular Jews since they were instituted. The only exception to these arrangements was that marriages entered into abroad were recognised as valid in Israel.

Jewish marriage and divorce in Israel is under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which defines a person's Jewish status strictly according to halakha. The rabbinate's standards and interpretations in these matters are generally used by the Israeli Interior Ministry in registering marriages and divorces.

Halakhic and biblical restrictions on marriage are applied in Israel. So, for example, in Israel a kohen may not marry a convert to Judaism. In the article, “Not Jewish enough to marry a Cohen”,

Irina Plotnikov cannot marry the man she loves, Shmuel Cohen, even though she is Jewish according to halakha (Jewish religious law). A rabbinic court in Jerusalem ruled recently that even though Plotnikov is Jewish, she is not eligible to marry a Cohen since her father is not Jewish. According to Jewish tradition, people with the surname Cohen are descendants of the priests that served in the Temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.[4]

Also, in Israel children of illegitimate unions are restricted as to who they can marry.

There are two related worries: intermarriage and illegitimacy. A child of marriages forbidden by Jewish law, or halacha (for example, unions between a kohen and a divorcee, between close relatives, or between a man and a previously married woman who did not undergo a halachic divorce) is considered a mamzer or chalal ("defiled" cohen). Mamzerim and their offspring, stigmatized with an irrevocable brand of illegitimacy, may marry only other mamzerim. A split in the nation, the argument goes, will follow: mamzerut will increase dramatically and it will be difficult to keep track of mamzerim to ensure they do not wed non-mamzer Jews.[5]

However, Israel does recognise civil or religious marriages entered into outside Israel. As a result, it is not uncommon for couples who may for some reason not be able (or chose not) to get married in Israel to travel overseas to get married.[6]. One out of every ten Israelis who married in 2000 did so abroad mainly because they could not marry in Israel. 2,230 couples who married abroad consisted of two Israeli partners, and another 3,660 couples consisted of one Israeli partner and one non-Israeli.[6]

In terms of social relations, most secular Jews view their Jewish identity as a matter of culture, heritage, nationality, or ethnicity[7]. Ancestral aspects can be explained by the many Jews who view themselves as atheist and are defined by matrilineal descent[8][9] or a Cohen (Kohen) or Levi, which is connected by ancestry[10]. The question of “who is a Jew” is a question that is under debate[11]. However, matters concerning Marriage in Israel are controlled by strict Orthodox standards and disputed issues can be resolved by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Thus, while this issue is in dispute, it is not concerning marriages in Israel. Issues related to ancestral or ethnic Jews are solved by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate[12][13][14][15].

Orthodox halachic rules apply to converts who want to marry in Israel. Under these rules, a conversion to Judaism must strictly follow halachic standards to be recognised as valid. The rabbinate even scrutinizes Orthodox conversions, with some who have converted by orthodox authorities outside of Israel not being permitted to marry in Israel. For example, an American man who underwent an Orthodox conversion in Metairie, Louisiana, was denied an official marriage in Israel on the grounds that his conversion may not have been legitimate and that the Orthodox rabbi who converted him in Louisiana is not recognized in Israel.[15][16].

If a person's Jewish status is in doubt, then a proper conversion would be required in order to be allowed to marry in the Orthodox community, or in Israel, where such rules govern all marriages.

According to The Jewish Week:

As a result, non-Orthodox Jewish couples are forced to submit to an Orthodox marriage ceremony with an Orthodox rabbi and are compelled to attend classes on family purity.Family purity[›] No Israeli may marry outside his faith community. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish or whose Jewish ancestry is in doubt are unable to marry at all inside Israel.[5]

Either ancestral or ethnic Jews cannot get married in Israel. There are examples of converted Jews who cannot get married in Israel because their marriage does not conform to halakha. There are even Orthodox Jews whose conversion is challenged along halakha laws and, thus, cannot marry in Israel. The children of marriages forbidden by halakha are also stigmatised. Jews are both defined along ancestral and ethnic lines—as in a Kohen or Levi and a Convert, who is ethnically recognized. A person who is not ethnically or ancestrally Jewish, according to halakhic law as interpreted by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, cannot marry in Israel.

Muslim community

Most Muslims in Israel are Sunni Arabs.

In 1922, the British created the Supreme Muslim Council as the Muslim religious authority in the British Mandate of Palestine and appointed Amin al-Husayni (1895-1974) as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The council was abolished in 1948 by Jordan, but was reconstituted in Jerusalem after the Six-Day War in 1967.

As the law of the land in relation to marriages has formally remained the Islamic law prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, it was not necessary for the Muslim community to formally "accept" these arrangements.

Muslim marriages are conducted in accordance with Islamic law and customs, and inter-community marriages are not permitted.

Sharia courts deal with personal status issues in the Muslim community.

Christian churches

There are nine officially recognised churches for the purposes of marriage. These are the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Latin rite), Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean (Uniate), Melkite Greek Catholic, Maronite and Syrian Orthodox churches.

There are more informal arrangements with other Christian churches, such as the Anglican Church.

Druze community

The Druze community was recognized as a separate community from the Muslim community in 1957. In 1962, separate Druze courts were established to deal with personal status issues in the Druze community, alongside the rabbinical courts, the Sharia courts, and the courts of the Christian communities.

Criticism of confessional system

The present arrangements create difficulties for some people who, for whatever reason, cannot marry or end a marriage within the system. This would apply, for example, to a couple each of whom belongs to a different community and to a couple which does not want to marry in a religious ceremony. Also, those who do not belong to a recognized community (such as Protestants) cannot marry in Israel.

The issue became acute in the 1990s with the large number of immigrants who came to Israel under the Law of Return as children of Jews and who were not considered to be Jewish by the rabbinate (because the mother was not recognised as Jewish) but who did not belong to any of the other recognized religious communities, and consequently could not marry in Israel.

Partial recognition of civil marriage

In 1951, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that marriages entered into outside Israel, which were conducted by a rabbinical court in accordance with halakha, must be recognized in Israel. The case before the court involved a couple which was not residents or citizens of Israel at the time of the marriage. However, commentators have noted that the case did not deal with a situation where one or both of the couple were residents or citizens of Israel, nor with a case of a civil marriage entered into abroad.

The issue of recognition of civil marriages is of special significance in Judaism because Judaism has prohibitions to marriages. These include restrictions on marriages involving a mamzer and by kohenim, but there are other restrictions. Such marriages will not be sanctioned by religious authorities, and in the absence of civil marriage cannot be formally entered into. The couples in these prohibited marriage situations sometimes get married overseas, mostly in Cyprus.

In 1962, the Supreme Court determined that the Ministry of the Interior must register as married couples who married in a civil marriage abroad, even if either or both of the couple were citizens of Israel. This judgment was interpreted as a minor technical issue, as the act of registration was said to be for statistical purposes only, and not a recognition of the personal status of the couple, as registration does not determine the validity of the marriage.

In a judgment given in November 2006, the retired President of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, ruled that the recognition of a civil marriage entered into abroad extends to its validity and recognition as a marriage for the purpose of Israeli law, and overruled a rabbinical court, which determined that a religious court had the authority to decide the validity or otherwise of a civil marriage entered into abroad.

Views on civil marriage

Since the establishment of the rabbinical courts, the status quo agreement has been subject to criticism, but also to the strong support from the religious community. The main argument of the supporters of the system is that a change of the status quo will divide the Jewish people in Israel between those who marry according to Jewish religious standards and those who marry in a civil marriage. These would not be registered or scrutinized by the rabbinate, and thus their child may be considered illegitimate, or a mamzer, if they wished to marry a child of a couple married in accordance with halakha. Opponents of the status quo consider the system to be contrary to people's civil rights.

Although most of the debate relating to civil marriage in Israel is conducted in the Jewish community, the issue has the same implications for all other religious communities in Israel.

Support for religious marriages

Supporters of the status quo argue that:

  • The marriages in the rabbinical court preserve the holiness of the state of Israel, and supposedly add a spiritual and religious dimension of family purity according to Jewish religious laws.
  • Civil marriage will lead to the assimilation and intermarriage. Marriage in the rabbinical court, it is argued, is a guarantee to the continuation of the existence of the Jewish population in the state of Israel.
  • A secular legislator is incapable of understanding the importance of religious halakha standards to the religious community.
  • From a religious standpoint, a religious ceremony causes no harm even though it imposes halakhic standards on non-religious Israelis - it is even considered by the religious community to be a mitzvah, a noble deed.

Support for civil marriages

Supporters of civil marriage in Israel argue that the status quo violates the rights of Israeli citizens by:

  • imposing religious standards on those who do not desire it.
  • creating difficulty for the marriages of people who belong to different religious communities, or people who do not observe any religion.
  • not permitting marriages of those who are prohibited by halakha, such as marriage between a person considered to be a mamzer, or a Cohen wishing to marry a divorcee. It also prohibits widows who did not have any children from a previous husband from getting re-married without passing halizah.
  • abridging religious equality by refusing to delegate authority to Reform and Conservative communities.
  • discriminating against women, by the inclusion of institutions as Agunot and "recalcitrant wives", and by refusing to permit women to officiate as a rabbi in the rabbinical court.

Supporters of civil marriage also argue that the status quo is in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16, which states that "men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family."

Arrangement attempts of the legal situation

The verdict

At the times when people petitioned the Supreme Court of Israel, trying to convince the Supreme Court to form an authority of civil marriages, the Supreme Court refused to do so, declaring that this was the responsibility of the Knesset. In cases when people requested to proclaim themselves as being "non-religious", in order that the court would be able to recognize his or her marriage according to an acceptable civil judgment, the court rejected their assertion. The only time in which the Court determined that the Ministry had to recognize a marriage between a Cohen and a divorcee was when it was based on the religious law that determines that those are forbidden marriages from the start but allowable post factum.

Alternative methods

Over time a number of alternative methods have been used by couples who wished to marry but did not want to marry in a religious ceremony, or who were unable to marry in Israel.

One method is to have a wedding outside Israel. Cyprus became the most convenient venue for many Israelis. Also, Paraguay became another jurisdiction where marriage would be conducted, because these could be effected by mail, without the couple being in Paraguay.

Another approach is to resort to a common-law marriage. A common-law marriage entitles the partners to most of the rights of a formally married couple in relation to inheritance, pensions and the landlord and tenant matters. However, the status of common-law marriage is not equal to the formal marriage in many fields. For example, the exemption from military service for a married woman only applies to a formally married woman.

The jurist, Frances Radi, supports these attempts to "bypass the law in legal ways", but points out that the necessity of an Israeli to resort to the use of a foreign state in order to get married diminishes value to the alternative ways to get married. In her view, "the existence of those minor alternatives only points out the lack of the respect to the secular values that the Israeli judiciary demonstrates".

Political attempts to resolve the situation

In the late 1960s the Independent Liberal party attempted to enable civil marriages for couples who could not marry in rabbinical courts; however, this attempt caused a governmental crisis.

The Meretz party, and its historical component parties Mapam, Ratz and Shinui have been leading a struggle for civil marriages in Israel for a long time, but without success. At the start of the 21st century several rabbis claimed (including the chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar) that the great alienation which this situation creates does not serve the religious interest. As part of the coalition agreement for Ariel Sharon's second government, the Shinui party demanded that a legal solution be found for those who could not get married within Israel. A committee which was formed to find a solution for this problem came up with the "coupling arrangement" solution (ברית הזוגיות). This committee, which was led by Israeli parliament members Roni Bar-On, Yuri Stern, Nisan Slomianski and Roni Brizon, and represented parties from the wide political religious spectrum, from the Shinui party to the Mafdal party, eventually submitted a bill by which there would be a separate status recognised for people who came in the pact of duality which would not be considered as "marriage" but will be similar to the marriage institution as much as possible. The bill never reached further legislation procedures.

In July 2007, Israel's Justice Minister, Daniel Friedmann, and the chief rabbi of Israel Shlomo Amar reached an agreement on a limited bill for civil marriages in Israel, which would only apply to the marriage of Israelis who do not belong to any recognized religious community. This agreement has to date only been discussed in the media, and has not yet been presented in legislative form.[17]

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Marcus, Jonathan (1998-04-22). "Secularism vs Orthodox Judaism". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-07-24.  
  3. ^ Order-in-Council: "Order of Marriage and Divorce (Registration)".
  4. ^ Barkat, Amiram (2005-02-18). "Not Jewish Enough to Marry a Cohen". Haaretz. Retrieved 2007-08-28.  
  5. ^ a b Mazie, Steven V. “Changing Israel’s Marriage Law” The Jewish Week
  6. ^ a b Ilan, Shahar (2006-10-19). "Four Hundred Brides for 1,000 Men". Haaretz. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  7. ^ Rich, Tracey R.. "What Is Judaism?". Judaism 101. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  8. ^ Katz, Lisa. "Who is a Jew?". Judaism. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  9. ^ "Judaism in Israel". Judaism. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  10. ^ "The Tribe". The Cohen-Levi Family Heritage. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  11. ^ Weiner, Rebecca. "Who is a Jew?". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  12. ^ "Amar: Bnei Menashe are Descendants of Ancient Israelites". Haaretz. 2005-01-04. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  13. ^ Freund, Michael (2006-10-03). "Right On: A Miracle of Biblical Proportions". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  14. ^ "Chief Rabbi Says Indian Community Descended From Israelites". Jewish Virtual Library. 2006-07-20. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  15. ^ a b Tigay, Chanan (2006-05-26). "Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Rejects some Diaspora Orthodox Conversions". New Jersey Jewish Standard. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  16. ^ Meyers, Nechemia (1997-07-12). "Are Israel’s Marriage Laws ‘Archaic and Irrelevant’?". Jewish News Weekly. Retrieved 2008-07-17.  
  17. ^ Wegman, Charly (2007-07-19). Bill to allow limited civil marriage in Israel for first time "Bill to allow limited civil marriage in Israel for first time". Yahoo News. Bill to allow limited civil marriage in Israel for first time. Retrieved 2007-07-24.  


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