The High Court of Justice made clear Monday it would not accede to the petition
filed by numerous progressive and pluralist groups asking for an injunction
against the government to institute a framework for civil marriage in
RELATED:High Court to hear petition on civil marriage
The petition was submitted by the Israel Religious Action Center
(IRAC), the Masorti Movement, Hiddush and several other groups.
responding to the petition, the court made clear it was not the appropriate
venue for the issue, deferring instead to the Knesset.
“We recognize the
problem and we are also sympathetic to it,” said Court President Dorit Beinisch,
who was presiding along with Justices Edna Arbel and Yitzhak Amit.
the question is, what can be done [by the court] to help here?” Beinisch
insisted that only legislative action could deal with the issue, not judicial
IRAC director Anat Hoffman expressed her frustration, saying
she thought the court “was not brave” in its approach, and this was due to
“recent attacks on the legitimacy of the High Court of Justice, which curtail
its ability to boldly find solutions when other branches of government fail to do so.”
“We’re very disappointed, but we don’t intend
to give up,” Hoffman said. “Our petition was an attempt to help real
people who have real needs. Hundreds of thousands of people legally cannot get
married in Israel and this is very unjust.”
The groups withdrew the
petition in recognition of the fact that it would otherwise have been rejected
by the court.
The various liberal and civil rights groups that submitted
the petition in October say there are approximately 320,000 Israeli citizens who
are not recognized as being Jewish according to Halacha (religious law), but are
defined as being “without religious status.” This official title prevents them
from marrying anyone belonging to any religious community, including
The absence of a framework for such people to get married, the
organizations claim, violates the state’s Basic Law of Human Dignity and
Additionally, according to the petitioners, there are thousands
of interfaith couples who wish to marry but are prevented from doing
The dispute stems from the status quo arrangement in which all
marriages in Israel are conducted through religious authorities, such as the
Chief Rabbinate in the case of the Jewish community. These authorities do not
permit interfaith marriages or marriages between those defined as being “without
religious status” and those belonging to a specific religious
Couples who wed in civil ceremonies abroad are nevertheless
recognized by the state as married.
In March 2010 the Knesset passed a
law that enabled a couple in which both partners are defined as being “without
religious status” to register in a civil partnership. Such partnerships have
been utilized by only a handful of couples, however, since in the overwhelming
majority of cases involving those defined as being “without religious status,”
the other person in the marriage is Jewish.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow said both those who support and those who oppose civil
marriage need to accept they will not get everything they want, and therefore
have to arrive at a compromise. According to him, the option of civil
partnerships with equal rights to those who are married is the optimal
Cherlow insisted the issue is one involving the Jewish
character of the state, although he stated civil marriages are not recognized by
Jewish law anyway and therefore would not create many of the feared halachic
“This is the biggest Jewish community in the world and it’s
important that it should have a Jewish identity,” he told The Jerusalem Post
“This is a question as to how our society views marriage – as a religious and
Jewish institution or as something legal and civil – and it’s very important
that it be Jewish.”
Rabbi David Stav, director of the religious- Zionist
rabbinical group Tzohar, expressed his opposition to civil marriage when the
petition was submitted, saying it legitimizes assimilation and encourages
intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews “under the cover of the laws of the
State of Israel.”
“We shouldn’t give the message that this is OK,” said
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said in support of the petition the
state had a “duty” to provide a solution to those of its citizens who could not
marry in a religious ceremony.
“The situation in which Israel denies the
basic human right of marriage to hundreds of thousands of its civilians is
intolerable,” said Horowitz.
“The vast majority of the public supports
the freedom of choice over marriage, but time after time the political system
gives in disgracefully to pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties.”
High Court hearing Monday, Hanni Ofek, the attorney for the state, argued only
the Knesset could deal with the matter.
“This is a sensitive issue that
arouses strong public arguments and therefore needs to be addressed by the
legislature. The petitioners are trying to create something here through
administrative procedures and it needs to pass through the legislative
crucible,” she said.
Lawyers for the petitioners said they agreed the
government should act to remedy the problem, but argued it is “thwarting efforts
to defend human rights in this regard.”
The director of Israel’s Masorti
Movement, Yizhar Hess, stated earlier the “historic injustice done to thousands
of citizens has to end.”
“Marriage is not a privilege but a basic right,”
he said, “and the state has to enable everyone to marry according to their
heart.”Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to this report.