Survey: Most Israelis want recognition of civil and non-Orthodox marriages

Given the option, half of those surveyed would prefer to marry outside the rabbinate.

An Orthodox wedding ceremony (photo credit: LASZIO BALOGH/REUTERS)
An Orthodox wedding ceremony
The number of Israeli Jewish adults who would prefer more than one option for state recognized marriages is growing significantly, according to a survey conducted by The Smith Institute.
The results of the survey which polled some 800 Israeli Jewish adults revealed that 67% would support recognizing equal forms of marriage, including civil marriages, and marriages performed by Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox rabbis. The poll also shows that if given the option, 50% would prefer to marry outside the rabbinate – and out of that 50% who defined themselves as secular, 84% said they would not want to marry through the rabbinate.
“A growing majority in the Jewish public expresses a preference for Israel to join the rest of Western democracies in having freedom of choice in marriage,” said Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, the head of Hiddush, which promotes freedom of religious equality in Israel.
According to Regev, “the reality is changing more rapidly than what the government is assuring us,” pointing out that the first year this survey was conducted, in 2009, the percentage of Israelis who supported recognizing non-Orthodox marriages was 53%.
Regev believes that these numbers are indicative of a larger issue facing Israeli society and sees the rabbinate as restricting Israeli citizens to the right of marriage.
“The group that suffers most from the lack of marriage freedom is Russian immigrants, and among them those that are not recognized by Israel as being Jewish: they cannot marry at all. You have to include 350,000-400,000 Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union, whose numbers increase by 4,000 every year, that are not eligible to have a state approved marriage.
“When you include the children from mothers who are not considered Jewish by the state, new immigrants still coming from the FSU and the small amount of converts [that did not convert through the rabbinate], you end up isolating a huge part of the population,” he said.
He explains that “when you are deprived of the right to marry, couples are forced to cohabitate or to go overseas to get married and this undermines successful immigrant absorption and if that is not resolved then, I believe that we are headed down a threatening and dangerous path.”
Regev also points out that even if Israeli couples do marry civilly overseas, they still end up in the hands of the rabbinate should the marriage need to be terminated.
Citing the Central Bureau of Statistics, he sees a growing trend among young Israeli couples – 16% of Jewish Israeli couples ages 25-29 – who choose to cohabitate and build a family without getting married.
“The irony is that insisting on a religious monopoly on marriages ends up undermining the institution of the family. To me, the right to marry and the right to having a family is much more a litmus test of our society because this involves everyone: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform,” said Regev.