Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar have reached an agreement on civil marriage bill for couples ineligible to undergo a religious marriage, the Justice Ministyr and the Rabbinate said in a statement Wednesday evening. The agreement was supported by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
According to the agreement, the civil marriage will take place in a civil court and jurisdiction on the matter will take place in the family court.
Also according to the agreement, the Chief Rabbinate will be authorized to establish special conversion courts without changing conversion methods and laws.
The suggested law is only meant to apply when both partners are not considered Jewish according to the Halacha (Jewish law), although they may be considered Jewish in the eyes of the secular public (for example, the son of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother).
Although the civil marriage and divorce law will be limited, the prime minister and justice minister view it as a significant achievement, as this will be the first time that a large part of the Israeli society will be allowed to wed in a civil marriage.
Minister Friedmann said that "this was an important step in expanding the right for marriage, which unfortunately is not fully recognized in Israel."
The Rabbinate said that an agreement had been reached with the Justice Ministry regarding the 270,000 citizens living in Israel who are not Jewish and do not belong to any other religion (most of whom immigrated to Israel from the Commonwealth of Independent States). Some 150,000 of them are not married.
According to the Chief Rabbinate, tens of thousands of citizens registered as Jews are not recognized as such by the rabbinical courts. The new law is aimed at finding a solution for them.
The Chief Rabbinate has been discussing the issue for three years.
"A problem has been raised regarding a very large population in Israel, which does not have the option to marry according to Israeli law," Attorney Shimon Yaakobi, the rabbinical courts' legal advisor, told Ynet.
According to Yaakobi, "We had to find a solution for all people with no religion." He noted that if the non-Jews ask to marry in a civil court, the rabbinical courts will be required to confirm that they are not Jewish.
Rabbinate officials stressed that the agreement reached only refers to couples in which both partners are not Jewish. A Jewish citizen will not be allowed to marry in a civil court.
Knesset Member David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) said in response that "the proposal is not enough. It does not solve any problem and is a complete surrender to haredi politics.
"The Yisrael Beiteinu faction will fight for its opinions and for the right of every person to marry as they see fit. The underhanded opportunism of Minister Friedmann is aimed at blocking a real solution for the problems bothering the State's residents. Yisrael Beiteinu has submitted bill on civil marriage and conversion aimed at solving these issues."
Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin said in response that "the new initiative is a trick which does not mean civil marriage, but deepens the isolation and discrimination of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not defined as Jews.
"Instead of finding a solution which will enable them to integrate into the Israeli society, we are creating a ghetto in which they will be able to marry. The worst thing is that for this worthless reform the prime minister has agreed to 'pay' the haredim by expanding the authorities of the Chief Rabbinate in terms of conversion," MK Beilin added.
Aviram Zino and Amnon Meranda contributed to the report