Thousands of Israeli couples cannot marry due to COVID-19

Tens of thousands of other Israelis are either unable to marry because of various restrictions of Jewish law, or due to the fact that they are gay.

HEDDY ABRAMOWITZ’S photo of a Jerusalem bridal salon. She said the work is meant to show the contrast between the dream of a new marriage and the reality of the mundane. (photo credit: MAAYAN HOFFMAN)
HEDDY ABRAMOWITZ’S photo of a Jerusalem bridal salon. She said the work is meant to show the contrast between the dream of a new marriage and the reality of the mundane.
(photo credit: MAAYAN HOFFMAN)
Thousands of Israeli couples cannot get married at present due to the  COVID-19 pandemic, since they are not eligible to marry through the Chief Rabbinate and cannot fly abroad for civil-marriage ceremonies.
Their dilemma has been brought to the forefront by activists whose wedding plans have been disrupted by the public health crisis, and are now demanding solutions to the fact that the state does not provide them with the ability to get married in a state-recognized format.
There are some 400,000 citizens classified as “without religion,” most of whom are immigrants, or the children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to Jewish law.
Tens of thousands of other Israelis are either unable to marry because of various restrictions of Jewish law, or due to the fact that they are gay.
Marriage in Israel is only recognized by the state if performed through the established religious institutions, such as the Chief Rabbinate, and those who are classified as “without religion” cannot marry through it.
The state does however recognize civil marriages performed abroad.
Since the borders have largely been shut, including to countries where Israelis commonly seek civil marriage, such as Cyprus, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, many Israelis couples in which one partner is not Jewish or is “without religion” have been unable to marry.
A hearing in the Knesset Interior Committee was held on Monday on the issue, initiated by MK Evgeny Sova of Yisrael Beytenu, MK Andrey Kozhinov of Yesh Atid-Telem, MK Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz and MK Sharren Haskel of Likud.
Two possible solutions were proposed during the hearing. The first, proposed by Sova and Kozhinov, is to allow couples to get married in civil ceremonies in the embassies of foreign countries in Israel.
The second, proposed by Horowitz, is to temporarily expand a law passed in 2010 allowing two people classified as “without religion” to marry in a civil ceremony in Israel to other citizens who cannot marry through the rabbinate or other religious institutions.
“What is the difference between registering for marriage in an embassy and a wedding in Varna, [Bulgaria],” demanded Kozhinov in reference to his proposal, although was told by the legal adviser to the committee that such a measure would require legislative change.
Sova insisted that the COVID-19 pandemic had led to numerous legislative changes that had not previously been considered for other aspects of daily life, and said that marriage registration should be permitted in embassies should be permitted until the end of 2021.
“The State of Israel is humiliating its citizens,” said Sova. “Thousands of couples are in a crazy, situation unprecedented anywhere else in the world – people are not able to get married,” he continued, accusing the Interior Ministry of ignoring the problem.
A representative of the Foreign Ministry said during the hearing it might be possible to have Israelis marry in foreign embassies, and that he would make inquiries with all such embassies as to the viability of this proposal.
MK Tehila Friedman of Blue and White said that “the reality of a half million Israelis who have no way to marry in Israel is intolerable,” and said that a compromise could be to register civil marriages in a marriage registry held by the Justice Ministry, and not the Interior Ministry’s registry, although added that she would support the embassy plan if it proves to be feasible.
“As a religious person, I prefer the registration of marriages in place of the current situation in which thousands of people cohabit without being registered anywhere,” said Friedman.
Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, founder of the Chuppot organization – which provides a non-state, Orthodox marriage service – noted during the hearing that, regardless of the COVID-19 crisis, hundreds of Israeli couples are marrying outside of the rabbinate in one form or another.
Figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics in August showed that marriage through the rabbinate is declining, while other studies have shown that non-state marriages performed by various organizations, including Chuppot are on the rise.
“It is unconscionable that the only western country where a Jew can’t get married the way he wants to is in Israel,” Leibowitz said following the hearing.
“There should be the ability to have various different marriage tracks and to maintain a register of who is married according to Jewish law and who is not for the purposes of determining who needs a divorce in accordance with Jewish law,” he said.



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