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In a blow to Israel’s religious establishment, Israeli court rules that online marriages must be honored

A court ruling grants a status long sought by Israeli civil liberties groups

(JTA) — A small-scale pandemic-era bureaucratic tweak in the United States could have sweeping consequences for Israelis who have long sought to allow civil marriage in their country.

A district court in Lod, an Israeli city, ruled Friday that Israel’s Interior Ministry is required to recognize the marriages of couples who use a virtual wedding service provided by Utah County in Utah.

If the decision stands, it would mean that couples who do not want to or cannot have an Orthodox Jewish wedding could get the benefits of marriage without leaving Israel, as they are currently required to do. Those include LGBT+ couples, interfaith couples, and couples in which one partner is not recognized by one of the established religious authorities and couples who are committed to non-Orthodox Judaism.

Jewish marriage in Israel has long been controlled by the Orthodox establishment, which has frustrated non-Orthodox Israelis and those who convert to Judaism outside of Orthodoxy.

Until now, marriages not recognized by the Israeli religious establishment had to occur abroad in order to be registered by the Interior Ministry, which for long periods was under the control of Orthodox parties. Cypress in particular emerged as a wedding destination.

Israeli couples lost the ability to travel abroad to get married when the pandemic began in early 2020. Some of them turned to an online wedding service launched in May of that year by the country clerk in Provo, Utah, as a service to local couples who could not safely obtain a marriage license in person because of COVID-19.

Officials in Utah said they did not realize the convenience the service would provide to countries with restrictive marriage laws but were pleased to offer it once requests flooded in.

Among those countries was Israel. After the Interior Ministry, under the control of the haredi Orthodox Shas Party, froze registrations of the online Utah marriages, a number of couples, backed by Israeli civil liberties groups, filed a lawsuit. Among the couples who used the Utah service are Idan Roll, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, and his husband, a popular singer.

The ruling delivers a change that civil liberties advocates have long sought in Israel — and galvanized support for abroad. In March 2019, three Israeli couples who were unable to wed in their own country were married at a Washington, D.C., synagogue in an effort to drawn attention to the prohibition of civil weddings in Israel.

Conservative politicians in Israel, including from the Likud and the Religious Zionist Party, are decrying the ruling and pledging to advance legislation that would negate it, the Times of Israel is reporting. Those parties have been in the opposition, but Israel’s fragile coalition dissolved itself last month and elections are due to take place in November.

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