A newly released survey revealed 80 percent of secular Israelis do not want to get married through the rabbinate, with most instead preferring civil marriages, the latest evidence of the widening gap between secular Jews and Israel’s state religious establishment. Civil marriages, which are not allowed in Israel, may be gaining support among the country’s secular population but they are an increasingly unlikely prospect under the newly formed coalition government, which heavily draws from ultra-Orthodox religious parties opposed to ceding rabbinate control of certain civil matters.
The findings by the nonprofit organization Hiddush for Religious Freedom and Equality also indicate nearly half (49 percent) of the Jewish public at large in Israel would prefer to be married outside of the rabbinate if given the option, an increase from the 39 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of Jewish Israelis who prefer to be married in an Orthodox ceremony fell to 51 percent.
"The survey clearly proves that the number of Israeli couples who desire to break free of the rabbinate’s shackles is rapidly increasing,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, the CEO of Hiddush. “These dramatic findings should be understood in the face of Israel’s legal reality, which only recognizes the legal validity of Jewish weddings officiated under the auspices of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, to the exclusion of civil and non-Orthodox religious weddings.”
Marriage in Israel is conducted almost entirely under the auspices of the country’s Orthodox religious authority. As a result of this, Israelis who belong to other Jewish denominations, such as Conservative or Reform Judaism, are still required to enlist an Orthodox rabbi for a traditional ceremony if they want their marriages to be recognized by the state.
Additionally, interfaith marriages are almost entirely out of the question because Orthodox Judaism does not allow for mixed unions. This has posed a problem for many self-identified Jews who are not recognized as such by the state for either not being born to a Jewish mother or not having gone through a stringent Orthodox conversion to Judaism.
The marriage issue -- along with the closely-related subject of divorce -- is among the most prominent of the personal status matters a growing number of Israelis want to see removed from the purview of the rabbinate. Another survey conducted last year by Hiddush found a majority of Israelis support increased separation between religion and state, with 78 percent expressing their dissatisfaction with the government’s actions on religion-and-state issues.
However, nascent reform attempts under the last government are unlikely to progress under the newly formed government coalition between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and ultra-Orthodox parties like Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ). Indeed, the limited reforms by the previous government, including a rollback of certain entitlements enjoyed by the ultra-Orthodox community, are already in the crosshairs of Netanyahu’s new coalition partners.
“In the last Knesset, people tried to blur Judaism and to strengthen democracy at Judaism’s expense,” Yair Eiserman, a spokesman for UTJ lawmaker Uri Maklev, told the Times of Israel last week. “We have an opportunity in the present government to strengthen Israel’s definition as a Jewish state.”
Authority over the rabbinical courts system has already been transferred from the Justice Ministry to the Religious Services Ministry, as part of Likud’s coalition deal with Shas, which will now control the latter ministry, the Jerusalem Post reported. The move is now being decried by activists who see it as a step backward as Orthodox parties are set to exert even greater influence on questions of marriage and Jewish status in the country.