UTJ shows flexibility on civil unions

Preeminent halachic authority for the Lithuanian yeshiva world Rabbi Elyashiv expresses readiness in principle to allow civil unions between non-Jewish Israelis.

rabbi elyashiv 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
rabbi elyashiv 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The haredi rabbinic leadership of United Torah Judaism expressed willingness on Wednesday night to permit Israelis who are not Jewish according to Orthodox criteria to marry in a civil union recognized by the state. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the preeminent halachic authority for the Lithuanian yeshiva world, expressed a readiness in principle to allow civil unions (brit zugiut) between non-Jewish Israelis. If Elyashiv's opinion is formulated in a final decision it would remove a major obstacle to the entrance of UTJ to a Likud-Israel Beiteinu coalition. At the beginning of the week, Israel Beiteinu and Likud signed a coalition agreement that obligated the next government to implement civil unions. But it was unclear whether UTJ could accept the conditions stipulated in the agreement. On Wednesday, a rabbinic committee headed by Elyashiv expressed a willingness to respect the coalition agreement on two conditions: that only non-Jews would officiate at the civil unions, and that the Chief Rabbinate would determine who was Jewish and who was not. It is still unclear whether Israel Beiteinu will accept Elyashiv's demands. MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), who is spearheading religious reforms included in his party's coalition agreement with the Likud, said that as far as Israel Beiteinu was concerned there would be no changes to the coalition agreement. "We negotiated with the Likud, not with UTJ. The deal we have with the Likud is completed and signed, and it will not be amended," he said. Rotem also rejected the possibility that the Likud would demand changes in the coalition agreement that would enable UTJ to join the coalition. "I am positive that the Likud won't ask to change anything," he said. If the coalition agreement is implemented, this will be the first time that couples who do not belong to a specific religion - Judaism, Christianity or Islam - will be allowed to enter into recognized unions in Israel. However, these civil unions will only be available to couples in which both man and woman are not Jewish. Thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who came to Israel under the Law of Return but who were not born to a Jewish mother, are unable to marry in Israel. These immigrants, most of whom identify as Jews but are considered non-Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinic establishment, are forced to travel abroad to marry. Their civil marriages conducted abroad are recognized by Israeli authorities. Now there may be a partial solution. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Israelis who are barred from marrying via the Chief Rabbinate would not be helped by this new initiative. Many are couples in which one member is Jewish and the other is not. A senior rabbinic source close to UTJ said his party had not finalized its stance on civil unions or conversion reform. "Our final decision on these issues will be part of a larger agreement on a host of issues important to us," he said.