The Reform Movement in Israel filed a petition with the High Court on Monday
demanding that the government institute a framework for civil marriage in
The Israel Religious Action Center, the Reform movement’s public
and legal advocacy arm, along with 11 other organizations constituting the Forum
for Free Choice in Marriage, submitted its petition calling on the government to
create a mechanism for civil marriage. The petition states that “the fact that
the Knesset has avoided legislating on the matter does not excuse the government
from using its authority to prevent the ongoing violation of fundamental
It is estimated that there are more than 300,000 Israeli
citizens and residents in Israel who are defined as being “without religious
classification” and therefore cannot legally marry in the state since only
religious institutions can perform marriages and most refuse to conduct
marriages between interfaith couples.
Currently, couples wishing to marry
in a civil ceremony can do so abroad and register as a married couple upon their
return to Israel.
The petition calls the current situation “totally
unreasonable,” stating that it infringes on the right to marry of hundreds of
thousands of people and, as such, “obligates the government to rectify this
violation of human rights.”
Riki Shapira Rosenberg, a lawyer for the
Reform movement working on the petition, denounced the status quo as
“ridiculous” and an infringement of basic legal rights.
“This kind of
situation is characteristic of a country like Iran and fundamentalist regimes,
not of a democracy,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
“The status quo doesn’t
prevent assimilation because people will still go ahead and get married
elsewhere. But I don’t want to live in a state that tramples on the rights of
non- Jews, it’s completely unethical.”
The majority of people defined as
being without religion are from the countries of the former Soviet Union, a
segment of which are not considered to be halachically Jewish. People who
converted through non-Orthodox Jewish denominations also fall into this bracket,
as do some who converted with an Orthodox framework but whose conversion was
rejected by the rabbinate.
Rabbi David Stav, director of the
religious-Zionist rabbinical group Tzohar, voiced his opposition to the
institution of civil marriage saying that it legitimizes
“This petition requires that the state encourage
assimilation and intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews under the cover of the
laws of the State of Israel,” he told the Post. “Marrying outside of the faith
disengages a person from the Jewish people and we don’t want to give the message
that this is OK.
“The way to address the problem is to make conversion a
friendlier process, to make the process of religious marriage more warm and
open, and for rabbis and the Torah world to inspire people to adhere to their
faith and heritage.”
Among the organizations which submitted the petition
are two Orthodox women’s groups, Mavoi Satum, a women’s rights group and the
Orthodox Jewish feminist organization Kolech.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head
of the hesder yeshiva in Petah Tikva and head of the desk for ethics and
religion at the Jerusalem Center for Ethics, expressed support for a compromise
solution but said that the High Court should not be the forum for the issue,
calling for the matter to be referred to the Knesset.
“It’s clear that
the state should allow for all of its citizens to marry and you can’t force
people to marry in religious ceremony,” he said, “but that the State of Israel
should recognize interfaith marriage bothers me and gives the wrong message to
the Jewish world.
“We need a compromise whereby Jewish marriage is the
mainstream but where there is the opportunity for those who don’t want to or
can’t marry in a religious ceremony to enter into a civil partnership within
which they can enjoy all the rights granted to those who marry religiously.”