The Religious Services Ministry, which has oversight for marriage in Israel, issued a statement on Monday claiming that statistics released on the same day disproved the claims of marriage reform advocates, such as the national-religious Tzohar organization, that significant numbers of Jewish couples are getting civil marriages abroad instead of marrying according to Jewish law.

The Central Bureau of Statistics figures showed that 9,262 marriages that took place abroad were reported to the Interior Ministry in 2010.

Some 1,533 of those marriages were of couples in which both spouses were Jewish. 797 of those couples, totaling 52 percent of the marriages, were conducted in Cyprus or the Czech Republic, representing 2.2% of the total number of Jewish marriages conducted in 2010.

The remainder of the 1,533 Jewish couples that got married abroad in 2010 wed in the US, Canada, France, the states of the former Soviet Union, the UK and Australia.

The ministry says that Jewish couples marrying in these countries marry in Jewish, rather than civil, ceremonies.

Organizations such as Tzohar are concerned about the number of Israelis marrying abroad, and point to the fact that if one subtracts the estimated 10,000 religious weddings from the 35,887 Jewish weddings, then the number of secular Israelis marrying abroad is 25% of the total number of secular weddings.

The Religious Services Ministry is only concerned with marriages involving two Jewish spouses.

Tzohar however pointed out that, out of the 9,262 weddings conducted abroad that were reported in 2010, 4,677 were of couples where one spouse is Jewish and the other spouse is not registered in the population registry.

The organization claims that many of the non-registered spouses of these couples are in fact Jewish but cannot prove their Jewish ancestry because many of them come from the former Soviet Union, where the relevant documentation is not available.

Tzohar said that the fact that over 8,000 mixed marriages were conducted abroad represented a catastrophe for the future of the Jewish people, and claimed that the high figures were due to the ministry’s lack of a process for clarifying a person’s Jewish status.

“The Religious Services Ministry prefers to turn those [Israelis] who immigrated from abroad and need to clarify their Jewish status in a stroke of the keyboard into non-Jews,” Tzohar said in a statement. “A short clarification process would reveal that the great majority of them are indeed Jewish.”

Of the 9,262 marriages abroad recorded in 2010, only a third actually took place that year, with a quarter taking place in 2009 and only reported in 2010, another quarter took place between 2003-2008 and the remainder before 2003.

The CBS stated that it therefore expected more marriages conducted abroad to be added to the tally for 2010 in coming years, and estimated that the total number of marriages that took place in 2010 will be approximately 6,400.

There are several reasons why people go abroad to get married.

Some couples do not belong to the same faith, which makes it impossible for them to get married in Israel since there is no framework for civil marriage for such couples.

Others cannot sufficiently prove they are Jewish to the rabbinical courts, while some simply prefer not to negotiate the bureaucracy of the rabbinate and the marriage registration process that is frequently described as a negative experience by those wishing to marry.

Inside Israel, 47,855 Israeli couples got married in 2010, of which 35,887 were Jewish, 10,220 were Muslim and the remainder were Christian or Druse.

Some 73% of citizens getting married outside of Israel who reported their weddings to the Interior Ministry in 2010 were Jewish; 25% were defined as “other,” mostly comprising those without religious classification, a group that mainly consists of people who are descendants of Jews from the former Soviet Union but who are not Jewish according to Jewish law; and 2% were Arab citizens.

Of the total number of weddings conducted abroad, 22% took place in the US, 17% in Cyprus, 17% in the former Soviet Union, 15% in the Czech Republic, 4% in Canada and 3% in other countries.

The director of the Religious Services Ministry, Avigdor Ohana, said that the ministry has conducted a comprehensive reorganization, including the drafting of a service agreement, courses in customer and public service and the establishment of a call center to improve the experience of people wishing to register for marriage in the rabbinate.

“The state religious services are on the rise in terms of improvements to the service, quality of service, access and professionalism,” Ohana said.

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