Religious services minister backs marriage alternative outside of rabbinate

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahan expressed support for an alternative form of marriage outside the rabbinate.

An illustrative photo of a Jewish wedding in front of the Mediterranean Sea. (photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)
An illustrative photo of a Jewish wedding in front of the Mediterranean Sea.
(photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana has said that he supports a form of marriage that would be an alternative to religious marriage through the Chief Rabbinate, for those who cannot currently get married in Israel, opening up yet another front in the current fight over the place of religion in the Jewish state.

Although the minister said he believes the current government is uniquely able to bring about such change and that “I think we’ll find ways to do it,” a spokesman for Kahana said that he does not have immediate plans to implement such a framework.

Kahana’s comments immediately drew condemnation from ultra-Orthodox MKs.

Kahana said on Wednesday that although he believes marriage itself is a religious construct, he believes that there should be legal alternatives for those who cannot marry in Israel’s religious institutions, currently the only avenue for marriage in Israel.

“I believe that every citizen of Israel needs to be able to actualize their partnership in a legal manner,” the minister told Ynet.

“I think that marriage is a religious term which should remain ‘according to the religion of Moses and Israel.’ There are enough rabbis, much wiser than me in Judaism and Jewish law, who have outlines [for legal, nonreligious partnerships],” he continued.

 Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana attends a plenary session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana attends a plenary session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Kahana referenced as one example the Gavison-Medan proposals on religion and state of 2003, which called for a civil marriage option for heterosexuals, albeit on condition of a declaration from the Chief Rabbinate that Jewish spouses are single.

“I think that specifically this coalition can do this.... I don’t think that if we [try to] force someone to marry in the rabbinate it will make him get married in the rabbinate, and so I am convinced that in the State of Israel people need to be able to actualize their relationship even if they don’t want to do so through the rabbinate,” he said.

“I think we’ll find ways to do it,” Kahana concluded.

During the last election, the mostly religious Yamina Party, to which Kahana, who is himself religious-Zionist, belongs, had virtually no concrete policy proposals on religion and state matters.

One proposal advanced by moderate religious-Zionist rabbis, some of whom Kahana is close to, is known as the “civil partnership” option that would have the same legal status as marriage in Israel, but reserves the term “marriage” specifically for religious ceremonies.

Although Kahana’s spokesman said the minister was not specifically referring to civil partnerships, it is possible that this is the kind of direction he could take.

MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, condemned the minister’s comments, saying, “Since Matan Kahana took office, he has worked to undermine the principles of Judaism through dangerous reforms on kashrut, conversion, marriage and Jewish identity. Kahana is not the minister of religious services, he is the minister of destroying religion and the destruction of Judaism.”

The liberal religious-Zionist lobbying group Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah welcomed Kahana’s comments, however, saying the current situation is untenable and that solutions commensurate with Jewish law are available.

“We call for the advancement of an appropriate solution for all couples which would strengthen the institution of religious marriage,” the organization said.