Currently, there is no civil marriage in Israel. Each religion has its own state-sanctioned and publicly funded legal system that presides over this matter. For Jewish Israelis, this authority is the Chief Rabbinate, an ultra-Orthodox institution that has supreme legal and spiritual authority over personal status determination and life cycle events; such as, marriage, divorce, burial, conversion and immigration. Only those whom the Rabbinate considers to be Jewish according to a strict interpretation of "halakha" (Jewish law) are able to participate in these events – the rest are simply excluded altogether. A recent study found that 666,000 Israelis are unable to marry at all under Israeli law. These numbers include: over 364,000 immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and their children, who are categorized as having "no religion;" thousands of other olim who's Judaism is questioned by the Rabbinate; converts to Judaism that are not recognized as legitimate by the Rabbinate (including Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or even Modern Orthodox conversions); over 250,000 female divorcees and female legal converts who cannot marry men who are descendants of those with the last name Cohen/Cohn whether religious or secular (around 80,000 men who are supposedly descendants of the “priestly caste”); 284,000 gays and lesbians.
In addition to the more than half a million people who have no legal right whatsoever to be married in Israel, some 20% of eligible couples simply opt out of a Rabbinate-sanctioned wedding altogether, flying to Cyprus, Prague, Greece or North America to celebrate this milestone in accordance with their own values or Jewish identity. Unlike these countries, it is not legal to have a Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox or Reconstructionist Jewish wedding in Israel. These thousands of couples include Jews who identify as Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist; "Secular" Israelis who consider themselves ethnically and culturally Jewish, but not religiously Jewish (Just Jewish); and liberal, progressive-minded individuals who do not want to participate in ceremony that violates their conscience. Not only does the current situation directly harm and personally exclude hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens, but it is clearly inconsistent with the values of Jewish peoplehood and democracy which are meant to be central tenants of Israel. Sadly, besides the lack of right to marriage, it is clear that the Rabbinate's marriage monopoly distances Jews from Judaism.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-700-70-30-13 to get more information about Havaya officiated Israeli Jewish Weddings and Workshops.
Havaya wedding ceremony - performed by Ram Efrat. Photo: Shiraz Grinbaum
Our Solution: the Havaya Project
In 2015, Israel Hofhseet officially merged with "Havaya," an organization founded in 2006 that provides Israelis with meaningful, Jewish lifecycle events as an alternative to the Rabbinate. The historic merger between our two organizations has significantly strengthened our joint effort towards promoting Jewish identity and advocating for civil marriage in Israel. The Havaya project is creating Israeli life ceremonies, relevant and accessible to the diverse public in Israel, that are rooted in the Jewish tradition and reflect contemporary Jewish renewal. The Havaya project supports Israel Hofsheet's core goals to strengthen democracy, gender equality, Jewish identity and global Jewish peoplehood.
The project's activities include:
Alternative Jewish Marriage Ceremonies: The process begins with an initial phone consultation in which we match the couple with a relevant secular Jewish wedding officiant based on their background, values, culture and need. Next, the couple has an introductory meeting with the officiant, as well as a second, more focused meeting where together, they plan their wedding ceremony in accordance with their own values and preferences. Lastly, the officiant actually performs the marriage ceremony on the couple's wedding day.
Jewish Wedding Workshops: The most popular program of Havaya are these Jewish learning workshops for engaged couples. This Jewish learning program teaches the couples about the meanings behind the rituals in the Jewish wedding. Many couples who participate in the workshops ultimately get married through Havaya, but a significant number who do marry legally through the Rabbinate use the opportunity as a way to derive more personal meaning from the ceremony.
Legal Workshops for Soon-to-be Married Couples: Many Israeli couples are afraid to marry outside of the Rabbinate and are not aware of the legal implications or consequences. Concerns that may prevent them from having an "alternative wedding ceremony" include the status of their future children or their rights as a couple. Through the Havaya project, we run seminars and workshops around the country to increase awareness of the issue and provide counsel and advice that dispel myths and misconceptions so that couples can make informed decisions.
Advocacy and Education: In order to eventually change policy regarding marriage laws in Israel, we run advocacy campaigns (online and offline) that educate the Israeli public about these issues. In order to increase our reach, we train activists around the country to speak-out and raise awareness in their communities