Monday, November 17, 2003

Civil marriages in Israel under the auspices of the Orthodox Rabbinate? or Is that the Messiah I see at the gates of Jerusalem?
Israel’s Channel 1 Evening News had some very interesting news this evening (Hebrew link). It was reported that the Chief Rabbis have agreed that rabbis will register civil marriages for couples that are not Jewish according to the Rabbinate. Up till now it has been impossible to have a civil wedding ceremony in Israel, although civil weddings performed abroad are recognized. The reason this situation developed is mainly a political one. But the ultra-religious parties, which have always been opposed to civil marriages, were weakened in the last elections, while the secular Shinui party was strengthened.

There has been a lot of pressure to solve the civil marriage issue, mainly because many Israelis of Russian descent find it difficult to prove to the strict Orthodox Rabbinate (the only stream of Judaism that is recognized for marriage purposes in Israel, also for political reasons) that they are Jewish (Proof is usually the mother’s Ketuba, her traditional wedding contract. Jews from former Soviet Union countries have no such documents, of course, because the Soviet Union wasn’t very tolerant of religion), and therefore have to go abroad to marry in civil ceremonies. The Orthodox Rabbinate obviously fears a loss of power, should a secular “revolution” take place, allowing civil weddings, or, even worse, Reform or Conservative weddings (Gevald!). Reform and Conservative weddings do actually take place in Israel. I’ve been to a few. But they are not officially recognized.

By offering this compromise, the rabbis probably reckon they can keep some measure of control, while solving the problem at hand.

It sounds like we haven’t heard the last of this. We’ll have to see how it develops. Just wanted to be the first to tell you.

Note: I know this is all probably very difficult to understand for people who are not Jewish, or for those who are not acquainted with the rather strange way the State of Israel has dealt, up till now, with the question of separation of religion and state in Israel (or rather the lack of it). I should really explain further, but it’s so late, and I’ve had a long day. I think I’ll just go to bed instead.

Update: John Williams points out: “Marriage, civil? A contradiction in terms my dear.”