Marriage in Israel

Suppose you live in Israel, and you and your partner are engaged. You’d probably be overwhelmed by the amount of choices you have to make – who would be invited? Where would the wedding be? What food? What drinks? What music? What clothes/rings/makeup? But above all, the most important decision you’d have to make, from my perspective, is what type of ceremony you’ll have. For me, both of us are Jewish, but we don’t live religious lives so in an ideal world we would have a civil marriage arranged by the state. The problem is – in Israel, there is no civil marriage.

In Israel there is only religious marriage. The authority to perform wedding ceremonies for Jewish people is the Rabbinate. The religious authorities for Christian, Muslin and Druze people perform ceremonies in their communities.

The Rabbinate is the Jewish supreme religious authority of Israel, it has jurisdiction over marriage, divorce, burials, conversions to Judaism and other aspects of Jewish life. Made from Orthodox rabbis. To get married you’ll need to provide proof that you’re Jewish and that you’re single. After completing that, the bride (usually) sees a bridal instructor to learn about the Jewish rules and laws regarding family and intimacy. The traditional Jewish ceremony doesn’t treat the bride and groom as equals and has customs that were once practical but now seem irrelevant and outdated.

Because the law permits only religious marriage, some people can’t get married: couples from different religions, couples from religions that aren’t recognized by the state, same sex couples, Jewish people who can’t provide proof for their Judaism or aren’t considered Jewish by the authority (4% of the population have no religious classification, around 300,000 people), couples who don’t want a religious ceremony. What options do these couples have?

  • They can get married abroad and be recognized by Israel as a married couple. Although, if they wanted to separate they’d still need to have their divorce done by the Rabbinate.
  • Common-law marriage – a legal status for people who don’t want or can’t get married. In Israel, couples of this status have almost the same rights and obligations as married couples, except in cases of adoption, alimony and visa abroad. In their I.D, they would remain “single” as opposed to married couples, which causes bureaucracy issues when trying to get the same rights as married couples in income taxes, financial compensations in cases of an accident and so on.

Many couples who decide to have a Common-law marriage or get married abroad still choose to perform a ceremony in Israel for friends and family that suits their own values, alternatively to the ceremony performed by Rabbis from the Rabbinate. There are different organizations in Israel which perform wedding ceremonies outside the Rabbinate, a few examples are the reform or conservative Judaism movement, “Havaya” for secular ceremonies in view of the couple’s values, performed by close people, public figures and sometimes celebrities, “Chupot” for Jewish Orthodox ceremonies, and many more.

Couples who decided to get married in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony and the Rabbis who performed the ceremony could be sentenced for two years in prison. Recently, a rabbi from the north was arrested for marrying a couple outside the Rabbinate, even though he’s from the Conservative community. The charges were made by the local religious authority claiming that the couple wasn’t allowed to be married by Jewish law. The charges were dropped due to public pressure.

In conclusion, Israel is a fascinating country that is declared both Jewish and Democratic. Unfortunately, these two values often contradict one another. As stated in the declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel from 1948:

“The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; …“

In my view, there’s still a long way to go.

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