Will Israel split from the Rabbinate? 75% of Israeli Jews want civil divorce

Overwhelming majority of non-haredi Jews support the move, both on the right and left of the political spectrum.

March 27, 2016 18:14
2 minute read.

Divorce. (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)


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A new survey has exposed the underlying discontent a large majority of Israeli Jews have towards the Orthodox Rabbinate's monopoly over divorce in the country, with 75% of all responders supporting a move towards establishing an option for civil divorce.

As expected, support was far lower among the ultra-Orthodox population surveyed, leaving a huge majority of non-haredi citizens in favor of the concept. Somewhat surprisingly, 52% of Bayit Yehudi voters said they supported civil divorce, despite the largely anti-progressive policies of the party's MKs in the Knesset.

Hiddush, the movement for religious freedom and equality in Israel, conducted the survey in conjunction with the Center for Women's Justice and Mavoi Satumhonor in honor of International Agunah Day 2016.

Many other surveys have examined the levels of support for civil marriage in Israel, with support often coming in at around 65% in favor of civil marriage, but surveys dealing with matters of divorce in Israel are rarer.

Divorce presents a special problem for Jewish women, with Orthodox Jewish law dictating that a man holds the ability to grant or deny his wife a divorce, leaving many women "trapped" in unhappy or abusive marriages. In extreme cases, such as a man who is declared MIA, it follows that the wife is not allowed by the state to annull the marriage and remarry if she wishes. The term for these women are "Agunot."

The survey also polled the public's trust in the Rabbinate, with results showing 69% of Jews across the religious and political spectrum do not trust the body.

The poll was taken from a representative sample of 500 adult Israeli Jews.

Head of Hiddush Rabbi Uri Regev said in a statement: "The survey is a tremendous vote of no confidence in the Orthodox establishment's monopoly. The public has resoundingly rejected the state rabbinical court system, which discriminates against women, traps many women seeking divorce in loveless and sometimes abusive marriages, and empowers their husbands to bribe them for their freedom. All successive Israeli governments have sold off the public's freedoms of marriage and divorce to the fundamentalist establishment; until Israel recognizes civil marriage and divorce, it will remain among the most regressive countries in the world in this realm."

Director of the Center for Women's Justice Dr. Susan Weiss, Esq. stated, "The right to marry and the right to divorce are fundamental human rights. Israel's imposition of Torah law on its citizens is a violation of human rights, and it unnecessarily causes more women to become agunot. Officially adopting civil marriage and divorce in Israel will significantly reduce the number chained women, and would be the first and necessary step towards a comprehensive solution of this terrible phenomenon."

Executive Director of Mavoi Satum Batya Kahana-Dror, Esq. added, "The data indicate that the rabbinical monopoly is losing its legitimacy. Alienation from Israel's religious institutions is growing among Orthodox and traditional Jews." Dror added, "This damages not only the democratic character of the state, but also its Jewish character. Israeli law should reflect the public's will, and permit freedom of choice in marriage and divorce."

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