Civil marriage raised in coalition talks

Prof. Naomi Chazan: "We must make sure we do not squander our chance."

wedding ring 88 (photo credit: )
wedding ring 88
(photo credit: )
The Forum for Free Choice in Marriage called Sunday on Kadima, Labor and Israel Beiteinu to ignore haredi political pressures and honor their promise to legislate civil marriages. The forum, made up of 26 organizations including the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel, seeks a solution for thousands of Israeli citizens, immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their children, who cannot get married because they are not Jewish according to Halacha and have no other religion. "We are in the last stages of the coalition negotiations and we must make sure we do not squander our chance," said Prof. Naomi Chazan, chairperson of the Israeli Association for Freedom of Religion, Culture and Science, which manages the forum. "How can Israel call itself democratic if it does not honor one of the most basic human rights: the right to marry?" said Chazan during a press conference organized by the Israel Movement for Progressive (Reform) Judaism. In Israel religion and state are not separated. Jewish marriage law dictates how Israeli Jews can get married. Muslim and Christian Israelis are permitted to marry according to their faith. However, citizens who came to Israel under the auspices of the Law of Return but who are not Jewish according to Orthodox criteria - for instance if only one grandparent was Jewish - fall between the cracks. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, associate director of the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, accused Labor of dropping the issue of civil marriage in its coalition negotiations with Kadima. "Labor simply did not bring up the issue of freedom of choice in marriage in its negotiations," said Kariv, "even though it is in Labor's platform." Tom Wegner, spokesman for Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz, said in response that the sides were still negotiating. "Our platform is familiar to our constituents," said Wegner. "And we are doing everything we can to get as much of it as we can into the government's coalition guidelines. "But since we are still in the middle of negotiations, and these negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors, I can make no further comments." The idea of civil marriages, not only between non-Jewish Israelis, which has the support of the haredi parties and the rabbis, but also between a Jew and a non-Jew, seems to have wide support within Kadima's ranks. Eyal Arad, who is part of Kadima's negotiating team, told The Jerusalem Post that "we have not given in to the haredim on civil marriages." Israel Beiteinu's Yuri Shtern said that after diplomatic issues such as Ehud Olmert's convergence plan, civil marriage was his party's top priority, "But so far Kadima's wording of the marriage solution is too ambiguous," he said.
At the beginning of 2005 there were 264,600 citizens who could not marry because they had no religious affiliation. The vast majority were immigrants from the former Soviet Union or their children who were eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return, but were not considered Jewish according to Orthodox criteria. Between 2000 and 2004, 32,009 citizens got married outside the country. Almost half (14,214) were couples in which both husband and wife were Jews. A total of 1,764 were made up of couples in which both husband and wife lacked a religious category. Between 2000 and 2003, 5 percent of Jewish couples that could have married in the Chief Rabbinate chose to go abroad instead.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.