Former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak wrote on Wednesday that the state should consider giving legal recognition to civil marriages conducted abroad between an Israeli Jew and an Israeli non-Jew. The recommendation came at the end of a ruling handed down by the Supreme Court rejecting an appeal by the children of an Israeli father who objected to a lower court's decision to bestow half of his inheritance on the man's second wife, who comes from Romania.
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"It is time to consider taking another step and recognizing the civil marriages of [couples,] one of whom is Jewish and the other is not, who are Israeli citizens and residents, who marry abroad and whose marriages are valid according to the laws of the country where they are conducted," wrote Barak. "This step should be considered in view of the situation in Israel, which is a country that absorbs immigrants and where there is no possibility for members of different religions to wed in civil marriages [in Israel]."
But Barak pointed out that his decision to recognize that the Romanian woman was eligible to inherit half her late husband's legacy did not mean that the court recognized the legal status of the marriage. All it meant, he wrote, was that the marriage fulfilled the requirements of Article 11 of the Inheritance Law, which does not refer to married couples but to "mates" or "partners."
According to the law, the partner of someone who dies and bequeaths his estate is eligible to half the legacy if the dead person has children. In this case, the children are awarded the other half. The Inheritance Law applies to situations in which the dead person has not left a will.
The incident involved a man whose wife died in 1992. The couple employed a Romanian who helped the ailing wife. The widower and the Romanian were married in a civil ceremony in Romania in 1996 and returned to Israel. The woman applied and received citizenship according to the Law of Return, and the couple registered their marriage.
Five months after the wedding, the man died without leaving a will. The man's two children asked the court for a declaration that they were his only inheritors. The woman petitioned against the decision.
The court recognized that the couple was married in the context of that particular law and awarded her half the inheritance. The children then appealed to the district court and then, again, to the Supreme Court. Both courts rejected the appeal.