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?
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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.
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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.


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