Imagine that the Rabbinate and Jewish law were an option, instead of a mandatory, forced and required fact. Imagine an Israel where civil, legal marriages could take place in the form of a mutual declaration before an official authority. Imagine that these marriages were considered valid, legal and official just like Rabbinate marriages.
Imagine pairs of brides and grooms decked out in their finest, overcome with excitement, holding a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a box with wedding rings in the other, walking through the streets of Tel Aviv on their way to or from their civil marriage ceremony. Imagine that the Rabbinate and Jewish law were an option, instead of a mandatory, forced and required fact. Imagine an Israel where civil, legal marriages could take place in the form of a mutual declaration before an official authority. Imagine that these marriages were considered valid, legal and official just like Rabbinate marriages.
Sound wonderful? Sound logical? Sound like that’s the way it should be? Of course! MK Sharren Haskel also understands that this is the way it should be. The existence of civil marriages here is the most logical thing in the world. After all, Israeli law recognizes civil marriages for registration purposes at the Interior Ministry.
20% of the Couples Who Register as Married at the Interior Ministry Got Married Overseas!
Thousands more couples hold free and equal marriage ceremonies on the holy soil of Israel and register their legal status as common-law spouses, without registering at the Interior Ministry at all.
Israeli society is losing its trust in the Rabbinate, as well as its patience. The institution of the Rabbinate was given the civil authority to be the marriage registrar of the Jewish citizens of Israel. The fact that the Rabbinate has sole jurisdiction over matters related to marriage and divorce has produced unbearable problems – various individuals who are marked “unfit for marriage,” couples who are not interested in getting married in this manner, and of course, a greater risk of complicated divorces.
MK Sharren Haskel also thinks that the situation is absurd, and that there’s no logical reason why Israeli citizens should have to fly overseas and get married somewhere far away, just so that they will be legally recognized here. She also thinks that the sight of couples performing civil wedding ceremonies here is something that we deserve to see sooner rather than later. That’s why she took the courageous step, within the religious-conservative coalition of which she is a member, and submitted a bill on Monday that would recognize civil marriages in Israel. So that couples could get married right here, in this very country, in a civil wedding ceremony.
However, MK Haskel is offering us a warped dream – civil marriages in Israel would take place in international “enclaves.” Those couples that will one day walk the streets of Tel Aviv with bouquets and rings won’t be going into an Israeli court of law, or municipal building, or institution of the Israeli Ministry of Justice. They won’t be holding their ceremony in Hebrew, their mother tongue and language of their country; they won’t fill out the forms in Hebrew or meet with clerks who speak Hebrew. The marriage license they receive won’t be in Hebrew – it will be in English or Czech or Danish or some other foreign language.
MK submitted her bill with an unbelievable twist – Israeli law would define the foreign embassies in Israel as non-Israeli territories and as such, Israeli couples could enter the doors of the foreign embassies all over Tel Aviv (there may be some in Jerusalem soon too…) and profess their love before foreign clerks. The purpose of the bill is to enable Israeli citizens who cannot or do not want to get married through the Rabbinate to have a civil marriage ceremony without leaving the country’s borders. It’s an important, worthy purpose. But the bill itself is crazy, twisted and weird. No less.
For if the country recognizes civil marriages, why not recognize them under the framework of the country’s own institutions? If the country recognizes a person’s right to get married in a civil, equal ceremony – why should he have to receive this service in a foreign language, a different culture, an enclave separate from the country itself?
Wedding of Shimrit and Uri. Photo credits: Adi Peretz
It’s important to recall and remind everyone that the current legal situation is that couples who were married in a civil ceremony overseas (or couples married in Israel in foreign embassies, according to MK Haskel’s bill) still need to get divorced through the Rabbinate.
The only solution to the marriage and divorce crisis in Israel is separation of religion and state. Meaning – a law recognizing civil marriages and divorces performed via the country’s civil institutions – the courts.
I’m sure that MK Haskel is interested in putting this issue on the agenda at the Knesset and in the coalition, and she’s doing it in a creative way that is also pretty absurd. It’s a nice way of arousing public discourse on the subject and it’s good to know that even in such a religious coalition that is busy with legislation that recognizes religious coercion, there are liberal voices who are trying to raise the most significant and complex issue of the status quo between religion and state – marriage and divorce.
I know that this bill will not pass and not advance to the legislative stage. Nevertheless, it should be applauded because it raises discussion on the topic and shows that there is a large forum that spans various parties who are interested in changing the status quo on this matter.
In the meantime, the best thing I can recommend to Israeli couples is to officialize their union in a civil, private manner in the form of a shared life declaration and partnership agreement. A civil marriage agreement, without registration at the Ministry of the Interior. This is the best legal option for anyone interested in minimizing the chance that the Rabbinate will have any role in their lives, at present or in the future.
Attorney Smadar Dekel Naim is the head of the legal department and conducts ceremonies at Havaya, an initiative of the Be Free Israel movement. She is also a mediator specializing in family law.