The Supreme Court decision handed down on Purim, which forces Israel to recognize marriages performed over Zoom, called “Utah marriages,” has been seen as another strike by the judiciary against the religious monopoly in Israel. As an Orthodox rabbi, I believe that Utah marriages have the potential to be good for the future of a vibrant Judaism in Israel.
Particularly in light of the data issued by the Central Bureau of Statistics on December 31, 2022, which state clearly that there are now more than 500,000 immigrants who made aliyah under the Law of Return but who are registered as having “no religion” thus precluding them from being married in Israel, the Utah decision stands in sharp relief.
On a moral plane, the Israeli government needs to recognize that we cannot prevent thousands of couples who are non-Jewish from marrying because of our fears of intermarriage and assimilation. Although the law today enables two non-Jews who aren’t a member of another faith to be married in Israel civilly, the cumbersome process by which someone proves they are not Jewish deters people from being married civilly and only a handful of couples have been married under the law.
Immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU) who were encouraged to come to Israel, pay taxes and serve in the IDF shouldn’t have to get married in Cyprus if they don’t want to convert to Judaism. There should be a simple option for non-Jewish immigrants to be married here and if the Utah decision opens up that door, it’s progress.
Beyond the moral dimension, the availability of civil marriages in Israel even if not done through the state apparatus will enable thousands of Jews to concretize their vows and then be married outside the Chief Rabbinate in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel. Recently, ITIM published statistics from the rabbinate that note that in the last decade, tens of thousands of Jewish couples who are eligible to be married in the rabbinate chose not to do so.
Many of these couples would like to be married Jewishly but given the challenges of going overseas, have chosen not to get married at all. Now that a simple civil solution exists, it will provide an opportunity for thousands to concretize their vows legally and then marry in a Jewish ceremony here in Israel outside of the Rabbinate. This is particularly true for converts who become Jewish outside of the Rabbinate and currently, this number is increasing weekly.
Finally, for the future, the courts have ruled that a monopoly on marriage is not in the interest of Israel. Though I have advocated for civil marriage in Israel for years, I have always said that what is much more central to my worldview is Jewish marriage in Israel.
By introducing competition in Israel, the Supreme Court is laying down the gauntlet and subtly encouraging the rabbinate to make Jewish marriage in Israel more attractive to young couples. It is my sincere hope that because of the Utah decision, more couples will ultimately choose to be married Jewish.
It is not inconsequential or coincidental that the Supreme Court released its decision on Purim, a time when Orthodox rabbis and politicians were otherwise preoccupied. The court wasn’t looking to pick a fight and certainly wasn’t inviting more legislation that will undo its decision. Instead, they were arguing that from a legal democratic perspective that Utah marriages must be registered in Israel. It’s worth considering that from a Jewish perspective, this might be true, as well.
The writer, a rabbi, is the founder of ITIM: The Jewish Life Advocacy Center and ITIM-Giyur K’halacha.