Chief Rabbi Amar approves civil marriage for non-Jews

Secular Jewish Israelis seeking to circumvent rabbinate still out of luck.

jerusalem rabbinate 248.88 (photo credit: Knesset Channel)
jerusalem rabbinate 248.88
(photo credit: Knesset Channel)
Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar gave his approval Wednesday for civil marriages in cases where both bride and groom are gentiles according to Orthodox Jewish law. Amar's decision paves the way for civil marriage legislation, albeit limited, in a state in which Orthodoxy has a monopoly over marital and divorce laws. Jewish law accommodates a marital arrangement between two gentiles, calling it a Noahide Covenant [brit noah] after the biblical figure Noah. Before publicizing his position, Amar reportedly consulted with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who also backs Noahide Covenants. Yosef's backing opens the way for Shas - the only religious party in the government coalition and, consequently, a potential obstacle - to support the legislation. It remains to be seen whether Israel Beiteinu will settle for only a partial solution, applicable only if both bride and groom are gentiles, to a situation in which tens of thousands of FSU immigrants, many of whom are their constituents, cannot get married in Israel because they are not Jewish nor belong to any other religion. The ground-breaking agreement reached between Amar and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann will allow some young immigrants from the FSU to tie the knot in Israel instead of traveling abroad, usually to Cyprus, for a quickie wedding ceremony. At the same time, the agreement maintains the religious status quo and blocks religious assimilation by preventing "mixed marriages" between a Jew and a non-Jew. According to Immigration Absorption Ministry estimates, there are about 300,000 FSU immigrants living in Israel who are not Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish criteria. However, these immigrants are entitled to automatic Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. The Law extends citizenship eligibility to anyone with a Jewish grandparent. In contrast, only people born to a Jewish mother are considered Jews according to Orthodox Jewish law, and only those immigrants are permitted to marry in Israel, unless they belong to another religion such as Christianity or Islam. In exchange for agreeing to civil marriages, the Orthodox will receive an assurance from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the Chief Rabbinate will continue to have total control over conversions. Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action Center, said in response that the proposal was "a lifesaver full of holes. It offers a solution for a tiny portion of the Israeli populace. It is absurd that hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens cannot get married in their own country. The thousands of Israeli couples currently traveling to Cyprus to marry will continue to fight for their basic right to marry." In contrast to Orthodox Judaism, Reform Judaism recognizes patrilineal descent, not just matrilineal descent. To prove its point that Amar's solution was relevant for only a small portion of non-Jewish Israelis, the Israeli Reform Movement quoted Central Bureau of Statistics figures. The data showed that between 2000 and 2004, about 32,000 couples got married, while in just 1,700 of these cases both the bride and the groom were gentiles. Also in 2002, only 8 percent of Israeli couples who chose to marry abroad were gentile. The majority of couples were Jews who simply preferred to marry outside Israel. Many did so to sidestep the Chief Rabbinate.