Recent trend shows Jewish marriage on the wane in Israel

Several organizations have expressed concern with the number of Jewish citizens marrying outside the rabbinate.

January 29, 2018 18:00
2 minute read.
A couple stands underneath a ‘huppa’ during their secular wedding ceremony in Tel Aviv.

A couple stands underneath a ‘huppa’ during their secular wedding ceremony in Tel Aviv.. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)


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The last three years have seen a 7% decrease in the number of Jewish marriages performed through the Chief Rabbinate, figures from the Religious Services Ministry show.

Whereas in 2015 there were 39,111 Jewish marriages under the auspices of Israel’s established Jewish authorities, there were 37,687 in 2016 and 36,345 in 2017.

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The number of Jewish couples marrying in recent years has fluctuated somewhat after a continuous rise from 2001 to 2008, with a trough in 2009 of just 35,887 and a peak in 2013 of 39,446.

However, several organizations have expressed concern with the number of Jewish citizens marrying outside the rabbinate, including significant numbers of people who marry in civil marriages abroad and even more who live together in common-law marriage.

In 2015, 1,397 couples, in which both spouses were Jewish, married in civil ceremonies abroad, with comparable figures over the past decade.

These figures represent approximately 3.5% of all Jewish marriages for 2015. And there are several organizations, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, that perform Jewish marriages in Israel outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate, although these marriages are not recognized by the state.

The Reform Movement in Israel says it performed approximately 1,200 weddings, although these numbers are not yet final, and the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel says it performs on average 150 weddings a year.

Other groups, such as the religious pluralism NGO Israel Hofsheet and the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah religious-Zionist organization, also point to what they say is an increasing trend of people living together without getting married. Figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics demonstrate that some 83,000 couples, or 6% among Jews, live in this form of common-law marriage.

The Religious Services Ministry says the decrease in the number of marriages is in general connected to a general decrease throughout the world in marriage and belief in the value of the institution.

Inbar Oren of Israel Hofsheet said the new figures were unsurprising and reflected “the decreasing trust in the institution of the rabbinate.” She added that many Israelis who cannot legally marry in Israel due to the lack of civil marriage and for ideological reasons “are taking responsibility and choosing more progressive and more relevant alternatives to modern life,” describing the phenomenon as “a revolution.”

Tani Frank from Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah said that the decrease in marriages through the rabbinate and the increase in common-law marriages “completes the wretched situation we have reached” and required a rethink on the rabbinate’s monopoly over marriage.

“On the one hand, many people are interested in a Jewish wedding ceremony and even a halachic one,” said Frank.

“On the other, they recoil from the rabbinate’s monopoly over marriage and divorce, and prefer the informal status of common-law marriage in order to get the rights available to married couples but avoid complications with the rabbinical courts should they divorce, on the other hand.”

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