Haredi world mulls acceptance of civil unions

‘Those not really interested in converting will be filtered out,’ says widely-read ultra-Orthodox weekly.

making out 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
making out 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As the Ashkenazi haredi establishment grapples with senior Sephardi adjudicator Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s recent endorsement of the military conversions, a new initiative is reportedly seeking to galvanize the haredi rabbinic leadership in favor of expanding the option of civil unions in Israel.
The rationale behind the notion, first reported Thursday in the haredi weekly Mishpacha, stems from the concern expressed time and again by the Ashkenazi haredi leadership and media, that most converts in Israel do not undergo the process because of their desire to live observant Jewish lives, but rather to achieve the status that would enable them to marry here.
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That flawed motivation, which these rabbis say is manifest in the fact that most who convert via the military track do not remain religious over time, should disqualify these conversions, the rabbis say.
According to Mishpacha, a widely read haredi weekly, a group of unnamed but prominent rabbis and Halacha adjudicators are this weekly beginning to present their proposal to the haredi rabbinic leadership for its scrutiny and decision.
A source affiliated with the rabbis told The Jerusalem Post that the group has made significant progress in promoting its idea, but is afraid that unveiling their identities and that of the senior rabbis who are tending to endorse it, would expose the initiative to the attacks of those opposed to it within the haredi world.
“Those behind the initiative...
are painfully aware of the fears such a move arouses within the haredi establishment, which for years combatted precisely such an option,” Mishpacha writes, but notes that the same forces are aware that Israel Beiteinu’s growing political power can bring to “blow after blow in the legislative battles on the issues close to the heart of the observant populace.”
Such a move could even cause a de-facto separation of state and church, at least in regards to personal status, Mishpacha continues, “but will, at the same time, prevent the absorption of fake converts, who pretend to accept the burden of Torah.”
The proposal would basically be an expansion of Israel Beiteinu’s civil union bill, which in its final form applies only to citizens defined by the state as lacking religious denomination, and aim at the tens of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who were granted citizenship under the Law of Return but are not Jewish.
According to the plan, couples in which both sides are not Jewish seeking to marry will be encouraged to conduct a civil registration, which has no halachic validity but will be recognized by the state.
That way, “those who are not really interested in converting will be filtered out,” the newspaper said.
“What interests Israel Beiteinu is not the conversions, rather providing their constituency of FSU olim with the option to register with their partners,” Mishpacha quoted an unnamed source close to the initiative. “When that is achieved, even [party chairman and Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman will agree to support a tightening of conversion procedures.”
However, what Mishpacha chose not to address is the question whether such civil unions would be a legal option for couples when one party is Jewish but not the other, or for any Jewish Israeli couple that prefers to wed outside the rabbinate’s auspices. The only Jewish marriages in Israel recognized by the state are those conducted under the auspices of the rabbinate.
Currently, Israelis may only have their civil marriage recognized in Israel if the marriage took place overseas – in which case, the couple then applies for recognition by the Interior Ministry when the couple returns to Israel. Even so, such marriages are not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.
The civil union initiative is not new in the world of Halacha. Former chief Sephardi Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron wrote in 2005 an article in support of civil unions for non-observant couples, explaining that a non- Halachic framework could prevent transgressions of Jewish law such as bastardy and infidelity.
In addition, such an option would relieve conversion courts of the pressure to convert Israelis just so they could marry legally.
Senior Ashkenazi haredi Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv objected to the notion out of fear that such an arrangement would increase intermarriage and assimilation.
Sources in Israel Beiteinu, meanwhile, insinuated to the Post on Thursday that an expanded civil union law, as MK David Rotem had initially worded it to apply to Israelis who are not Jewish, would indeed nullify the need for the party’s primary conversion bill, that was shot down by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in July.
Such a framework, the sources explained, would solve their constituency’s problem of being in limbo – having no Jewish status in a state in which marriage and divorce can take place only through the religious establishment.