Progressive groups petition to institute civil marriage

Over 300,000 Israelis who are defined as being ‘without religious classification’ cannot legally marry in the state.

Jewish wedding_521 (photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)
Jewish wedding_521
(photo credit: Rinat Gilboa)
The Reform Movement in Israel filed a petition with the High Court on Monday demanding that the government institute a framework for civil marriage in Israel.
The Israel Religious Action Center, the Reform movement’s public and legal advocacy arm, along with 11 other organizations constituting the Forum for Free Choice in Marriage, submitted its petition calling on the government to create a mechanism for civil marriage. The petition states that “the fact that the Knesset has avoided legislating on the matter does not excuse the government from using its authority to prevent the ongoing violation of fundamental rights.”
It is estimated that there are more than 300,000 Israeli citizens and residents in Israel who are defined as being “without religious classification” and therefore cannot legally marry in the state since only religious institutions can perform marriages and most refuse to conduct marriages between interfaith couples.
Currently, couples wishing to marry in a civil ceremony can do so abroad and register as a married couple upon their return to Israel.
The petition calls the current situation “totally unreasonable,” stating that it infringes on the right to marry of hundreds of thousands of people and, as such, “obligates the government to rectify this violation of human rights.”
Riki Shapira Rosenberg, a lawyer for the Reform movement working on the petition, denounced the status quo as “ridiculous” and an infringement of basic legal rights.
“This kind of situation is characteristic of a country like Iran and fundamentalist regimes, not of a democracy,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
“The status quo doesn’t prevent assimilation because people will still go ahead and get married elsewhere. But I don’t want to live in a state that tramples on the rights of non- Jews, it’s completely unethical.”
The majority of people defined as being without religion are from the countries of the former Soviet Union, a segment of which are not considered to be halachically Jewish. People who converted through non-Orthodox Jewish denominations also fall into this bracket, as do some who converted with an Orthodox framework but whose conversion was rejected by the rabbinate.
Rabbi David Stav, director of the religious-Zionist rabbinical group Tzohar, voiced his opposition to the institution of civil marriage saying that it legitimizes assimilation.
“This petition requires that the state encourage assimilation and intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews under the cover of the laws of the State of Israel,” he told the Post. “Marrying outside of the faith disengages a person from the Jewish people and we don’t want to give the message that this is OK.
“The way to address the problem is to make conversion a friendlier process, to make the process of religious marriage more warm and open, and for rabbis and the Torah world to inspire people to adhere to their faith and heritage.”
Among the organizations which submitted the petition are two Orthodox women’s groups, Mavoi Satum, a women’s rights group and the Orthodox Jewish feminist organization Kolech.
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of the hesder yeshiva in Petah Tikva and head of the desk for ethics and religion at the Jerusalem Center for Ethics, expressed support for a compromise solution but said that the High Court should not be the forum for the issue, calling for the matter to be referred to the Knesset.
“It’s clear that the state should allow for all of its citizens to marry and you can’t force people to marry in religious ceremony,” he said, “but that the State of Israel should recognize interfaith marriage bothers me and gives the wrong message to the Jewish world.
“We need a compromise whereby Jewish marriage is the mainstream but where there is the opportunity for those who don’t want to or can’t marry in a religious ceremony to enter into a civil partnership within which they can enjoy all the rights granted to those who marry religiously.”