The total number of people who married in Israel and registered for marriage in 2012 dropped by close to 2 percent compared to 2011, while more than 5% more people chose to wed abroad, according to figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
In Israel, 37,751 couples in which both partners were Jewish registered as married, and 7,698 Israeli couples in which at least one of the partners is Jewish registered as married, giving a total of 45,449 registered marriages in Israel in 2012 in which at least one spouse was Jewish.
In comparison to 2011, when 38,396 couples registered as married, the total number of couples getting married in Israel in 2012 dropped by 2%.
Additionally, there was a 5.4% rise in 2012 in the number of marriages registered as having taken place abroad in which at least one of the spouses was Jewish, compared to the 2011 figure of 7,301 couples. In other words, some 16.9% of marriages involving at least one Jew took place outside of Israel.
Of the 7,698 couples who registered as married in 2012 in which at least one spouse was Jewish and who wed outside Israel, 1,583 of them included two Jewish spouses.
The remaining 6,115 couples, representing 13% of all marriages registered in Israel in 2012 including one Jewish spouse, were either mixed marriages or included a spouse who was not an Israeli citizen, and was likely not Jewish.
Of the mixed marriages that took place abroad and were registered in 2012, in 13 cases an Arab man married a Jewish woman, and in three cases a Jewish man married an Arab woman.
In total, there were 9,509 couples who married abroad in 2012, of which 1,548 included a Jew and a spouse without religious classification, identified as “other” by the CBS, which usually means an Israeli citizen who emigrated from the former Soviet Union but who is not Jewish according to Jewish religious law.
In response to the figures, the Chief Rabbinate chose to focus on the number of people who are eligible to marry in Israel with the Chief Rabbinate, meaning both spouses are Jewish, but who chose to marry abroad – 4% of the total number of Jewish couples who registered as married in 2012.
Religious institutions have exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce in Israel, and it is practically impossible for partners from different religions to marry in Israel since there is no arrangement for civil marriage, nor can a couple marry if one partner is of one religion and the other is classified as having no religion.
“From the statistics, it can be seen that despite the impression that political organizations are trying to give, the Jewish public in Israel is voting with its feet and is choosing to marry with the rabbinate,” the Chief Rabbinate said.
Chief Rabbi David Lau said that for the “overwhelming majority of the Israeli public it is totally natural that Jews marry in a Jewish wedding.”
However, the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group criticized the Chief Rabbinate’s position, and pointed to the high number of couples with at least one Jewish spouse who are forced to go abroad to marry.
“The CBS statistics demonstrate the complete failure of the Chief Rabbinate and of the State of Israel, in which such high percentages of the its citizens are forced to travel abroad in order to implement their basic right to marry,” said Hiddush director and Reform rabbi Uri Regev.
“The figures reveal that the number of people marrying abroad is increasing and the number of Jews marrying in Israel is decreasing,” he continued, and stressed that those marrying in Israel “are not doing so of their own free choice, because there is no other legal way to get married in Israel... and everyone is captive to the rabbinate.”
Tzohar, a rabbinical association, which assists couples navigate the religious bureaucracy and provides rabbis to perform wedding ceremonies strongly criticised the chief rabbinate's stance.
"The undisputed facts attest to a mass wave of growing intermarriage in Israel," said Tzohar executive vice-president Nachman Rosenberg. "This is a phenomenon that threatens the future of the Jewish State. Who should be losing sleep over this? The Minister of Transport?! Instead of burying their heads in the sand, we need a Chief Rabbinate that will review their job description and take responsibility for the Jewish future of Israel, instead of assuming NGOs will continue to clean up their mess.