Helping Diaspora couples to tie the knot in Israel

Rabbinate wants standardized procedures to cut bureaucracy.

love marriage wedding (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
love marriage wedding
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
There are three kinds of Diaspora sweethearts who choose to marry in Israel: Those who think it's romantic; those who met on birthright or some similar program; and those with most of their relatives in Israel, says Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of an organization that helps them do just that. Jewish couples from abroad registering for marriage in Israel are by and large reporting a smooth experience, and say they are getting help avoiding the exhausting bureaucracy that awaits local couples wanting to tie the knot. ITIM - The Jewish Life Information Center, an organization that promises a one-stop-shop for Diaspora couples wishing to get married in Israel, might have something to do with that. ITIM's patent: making it as easy as possible, starting with Israel's notoriously bureaucratic religious institutions. Most of the people ITIM helps are secular Jews who are loosely affiliated with organized religious institutions in their communities but feel a strong connection to Israel. The program, which has existed for a year and a half, is gaining popularity among couples who want to get married, be recognized by the relevant local authorities, and leave. Farber has established a relationship with the Jerusalem Rabbinate, which "clears a path" for the foreign couples. ITIM is composed of volunteers whose goal is to fight the assimilation of Diaspora Jews by making it easier for them to marry each other in Israel. "We made a deal with the Jerusalem Rabbinate, who gave us an official authorization to be the legal representatives of those couples," Farber said. "They [the couples] have to enter our Web site, fill out the special application file... attach all documents and permits that are needed, and we open a marriage file at the Jerusalem Rabbinate for them. "The couple can come here two days before the wedding, sign one document at the Rabbinate, take their ketuba [Jewish marriage contract] and get married," he said. There is no charge for the service. There is no recommended fee for the officiating rabbi, although it is accepted practice in Israel to give the rabbi a gift of between NIS 500 and NIS 2,000. Rabbi David Banino, deputy marriage registrar at the Jerusalem Rabbinate, told The Jerusalem Post the services provided to ITIM were given to any Israeli legal representative of a Diaspora couple who want to get married here. "Every day, two to three couples, usually on tourist visas, enter the Rabbinate in Jerusalem and want to open a marriage file," he said. "We found a way to be more flexible and we are even ready to receive marriage applications via fax. "Recently, we changed some irrelevant paragraphs in the ketuba for couples who don't live in Israel, and we are working on an English version of the application file. But until it is ready, couples can send their legal representatives to the Jerusalem Rabbinate along with the required paperwork and we will open a file for them," Banino said. So far, only couples from the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa have turned to ITIM, Farber said, "but many Israeli couples have expressed a desire to be able to be assisted by a service like we offer." There is no equivalent service helping Israeli couples break through the red tape. For Joanna-Rose Martyn, 31, and Adam Kravitz, 42, who live in London and plan to get married in Jerusalem on May 6, the entire process went smoothly. Thanks to Google and Farber, the preparations were easy - even though their case was a bit complicated since it is the second marriage for both of them. "We both have a holiday home in Tel Aviv and we come whenever we have time," Martyn said. "Obviously we both have strong ties to Israel and as soon as the plane touches ground in Tel Aviv, I feel happy and I want to be married in my spiritual home." Josh Diamond, 33, and Debbie Scher, 28, who live in South Africa but made aliya in the past, plan to get married in Jerusalem in April. For them, the process has been as "smooth-as-silk." "Both our sisters are pregnant so it is important to us to get married before their deliveries, but also not to wait until August," Diamond said. "We both had to give certificates of bachelorhood that we got here, and the Rabbinate takes it from there. Rabbi Farber helped us to decide on a date that suits Ashkenazi customs, so everything is ready," he said, adding that they plan to return to live in Israel in a few years. Rabbi Ya'acov Lisner, head of the Kiryat Ono Religious Council's marriage department and the coordinator of the Chief Rabbinate's national committee for marriage registration, said the Chief Rabbinate was working to standardize procedures. "It is true that each religious council has at times differing requests through the registration process," he told the Post on Monday, "and this is legitimate, especially because they want a certain verification of the couple's Jewish status. Although there are justified complaints about the functioning of this or that council, there is a general atmosphere of checking the Rabbinate too closely, and sometimes unfairly." Lisner said the new procedure would help create uniformity between the requests from the different Rabbinate offices. "We are working on building a Web site for the Chief Rabbinate where couples will be able to find out all about the marriage process and the obstacles that can come up," he said. "We have just published an updated list of rabbis who are allowed to perform a marriage ceremony. There is a desire to change things and become more efficient. But since the Rabbinate is composed of many streams of practice and opinions, everything become more complicated," Lisner said.