Israel Beiteinu officials expressed dissatisfaction on Thursday with Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar's decision to support civil marriage in cases where both bride and groom are gentiles according to Orthodox Jewish law.
Party officials said such a change would not go far enough and would not solve the problem of tens of thousands of Jewish sector Israelis who cannot get married under Orthodox Jewish law. They said they doubted any couples would choose to have a civil marriage in Israel, because they would be obligated to bring documents and witnesses to prove to the Chief Rabbinate that they were both non-Jews.
"This is not a breakthrough," an Israel Beiteinu spokeswoman said. "It will barely affect anyone and it won't change anything."
Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem, who is Orthodox, has submitted a bill to the Knesset that would allow registration of civil couplehood.
He said his bill would allow any couple to be recognized for the purposes of governmental benefits without violating Jewish law.
"This would not cause problems religiously because there are anyway many couples today who live together without getting married," Rotem said. "Many important rabbis, including [Shas mentor] Rabbi Ovadia Yosef say this wouldn't constitute marriage, so it shouldn't be a problem. I just want people to get the benefits that they deserve."
Rotem was also disappointed by the idea that in return for allowing gentiles' civil marriage, the Chief Rabbinate's total control over conversions would be mandated by law. Rotem had tried unsuccessfully to shift the authority over conversions to local rabbis who could take a more personal role in helping immigrants than the rabbinate.
The Prime Minister's Office denied claims that politics were involved in the deal on civil marriage and conversion that was reached between Amar and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann.
Olmert's associates said Friedmann had tried to advance civil marriage for decades and that the issue was also in Kadima's platform.
"It wasn't a payment to anyone," an Olmert associate said.
Friedmann told Israel Radio that despite his agreement with Amar to allow civil marriages for couples who have no religion, it would likely take a long time before Jews could marry that way.
"The possibility of obtaining the agreement of the Orthodox parties for such an arrangement seems very far away," said Friedmann. "At the same time, I would like to believe that the very fact that we are introducing such marriages, even if it is for a narrow sector of the population, will serve as a sign for the future. [Hopefully,] all the religious factions will be convinced that they can live with such an arrangement."
Friedmann added that as far as he was concerned, the offspring of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother was Jewish to all intents and purposes.
"After all," he said, "if they serve in the IDF, they are part of us, part of the Israeli community, and we need to care for them just as they care for others who are Jewish according to religious law."