Jewish civil marriage group sees increase in ceremony requests

The group, which aims to help Israelis get married legally without the Rabbinate, believes political tensions have caused the increase in requests.

 Wedding (Illustrative). (photo credit: PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
Wedding (Illustrative).

Civil marriages are on the rise in Israel, and this Israel-based organization has been instrumental in doing so. Chuppot, an organization that provides private religious services and challenges Israel's Chief Rabbinate, has officially celebrated more than 1,000 weddings conducted.

The organization reported a 30% increase in inquiries to those from last year. Chuppot organizes marriages legally outside of the official rabbinical establishment. Now, couples from across Israel can seek other ways to seek their marriage contract through official methods without jumping through additional hoops.

The reported increase in marriage requests can be attributed to several factors, but the organization believes this can best be attributed to the current state of uncertainty in Israel. As the atmosphere in Israel has recently been identified as tense, especially regarding those of political and religious significance, many Israelis have sought other opportunities to seek marriages. 

Though many Israelis identify as Jewish and follow Jewish tradition, they may find it tough to differentiate between their religious identities and that of government actions. Marriage falls into this category. With the push for Israel's judicial reform, secular Israelis and non-Jewish residents and citizens of the Jewish state find themselves grappling with the laws of a "halachic state."

Providing suitable alternatives for the Israeli public

As a result, Chuppot has stepped in to provide a legal alternative for those wishing to be married in the holy land, while removing one official step. Since Israelis may later have to deal with the rabbinate for other reasons, Chuppot acts as a different messenger.

Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, president and founder of Chuppot, made note of the increase. "Every year we are aware of a consistent increase in inquiries and demands for the service we offer. This year, we've seen a drastic increase in the number of inquiries and interest in the weddings we conduct. These have come in just a few months, towards the end of the Omer and the beginning of the summer wedding season," he said. 

"Chuppot as an organization has set itself the goal of 'being a rabbi where there is no rabbi,' according to the religion of Moses and Israel, even if this means that he will not be registered for marriage with the chief rabbinate, Leibowitz added. "Our activity is carried out of an absolute commitment to Halacha and the laws of Orthodox Judaism. All rabbinic activity within the project is committed to Halacha and takes place without breaking its boundaries.

"In cases where the couples encounter a difficult and discriminatory policy, the treatment they receive in chuppahs is open and friendly - one that will allow each couple to express their wishes in the design of the canopy and the ceremony."

Rivka Arbiv, CEO of Chuppot, elaborated on the different types of couples approaching the organization. "There are couples who have encountered a maze of bureaucracy and difficulties with the rabbinical establishment, especially when it comes to finding out about Judaism on the way to the chuppah. These couples chose to make a 'turn,' to recalculate a route and find a solution that would allow them to hold a Jewish-religious ceremony, but to be freed from the shackles of dependence on the rabbinate."

Arbiv continued, "There are also couples who choose an alternative to the rabbis for ideological reasons - beginning with the desire to design a more egalitarian or feminist chuppah ceremony. Some are just tired of the Rabbinate."

"There are couples who have encountered a maze of bureaucracy and difficulties with the rabbinical establishment, especially when it comes to finding out about Judaism on the way to the chuppah."

Rivka Arbiv

Arbiv says that couples fearful of religious coercion have significantly contributed to the increase in these numbers.