End Orthodox Monopoly on Jewish Marriage in Israel

Time Has Come To Allow Civil Marriage for All

Marriage Madness: Why should Orthodox rabbis have the final say on how all Jews get married and divorced in Israel?
getty images
Marriage Madness: Why should Orthodox rabbis have the final say on how all Jews get married and divorced in Israel?

By Nancy K. Kaufman

Published May 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

After 65 years, the State of Israel is a thriving democracy of which we can all be very proud in many areas. But it is a democracy that continues to face many obstacles to preserving its Jewish and democratic character.

One obstacle that is of particular concern to non-Orthodox Jews is the absence of any possibility for civil marriage and divorce. Until marriage is no longer controlled by the Orthodox rabbinical courts, the Jewish homeland will continue to exclude many Jews from celebrating joyous occasions in their cultural epicenter.

If we believe Israel is meant to be a homeland for all Jews, not just Orthodox Jews, we must fight against a system in which matrimony is reserved for the most religious rather than being inclusive of all Jews whatever their religious practice.

Every year, thousands of Israeli couples are wed outside of the country in civil ceremonies in order to be recognized as legally married, since Israel does have an obligation to recognize marriages performed in other countries. But for many Jews living in Israel or in the Diaspora, celebrating joyous occasions and other life milestones in the Jewish homeland is an opportunity to connect with their heritage.

Even as Israel is seen as a safe-haven for the LGBT community and a progressive leader on many other domestic matters, marriage has not experienced the same type of institutional transformation. The fact of the matter is that not every Jew qualifies for an Orthodox Jewish wedding. As it stands now, in the next generation many American Jews (some say as many as two-thirds of us) would not be permitted to marry in Israel.

Today, significant portions of the population are barred from marrying within Israel. Nearly 350,000 Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union (who gained citizenship under the Law of Return) cannot marry because their mothers or grandmothers are not Jewish according to the Jewish legal framework.

Diaspora Jews who have had non-Orthodox conversions are eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return but may not be recognized as Jews by the Chief Rabbinate and thus cannot marry.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.