Some 247,000 Israelis, mostly new immigrants from former Soviet Union countries, cannot get married in Israel because they are not considered Jewish, Central Bureau of Statistics data show.
The figures also show that in 2002, 7,089 Israelis got married overseas - with 49 percent of them tying the knot in Cyprus - compared to only 3,639 in 1997.
Other popular marriage destinations included Bulgaria, the U.S., and former Soviet Union countries.
According to the data, 1,408 Israeli men married non-Israeli brides overseas, and 789 Israeli brides married non-Israeli men.
Also, the figures indicate that the number of marriage ceremonies performed by Israel's religious establishment, the rabbinate, has significantly dropped since the 1970’s in relation to the increase of the Jewish population in Israel.
For example, in 1971, 28,375 Israeli couples were married by the rabbinate, but 30 years later, in 2001, the total number of couples who were married by the rabbinate increased to only 29,465.
This fact alludes to the strengthening of the "untraditional" family lifestyles and to the rise in the number of Israelis who get married abroad.
'Jewish public is tired of religious coercion'
Zamira Segev of the Forum for Free Choice in Marriage says the large number of Jewish immigrants who choose to get married overseas
"The continuous rise in the number of Israelis who get married abroad shows the need for a comprehensive solution," she says. “The fact that most of the those who get married overseas are Jews proves the Jewish public is tired of the religious coercion and the orthodox monopoly.”
Upon the data’s publication, The Israel Religious Action Center sent Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a letter calling for a government initiative to find a solution for the plight of those Israelis who are not permitted to marry in Israel.