Israeli marriage laws discriminate against many groups. As result of the religious monopoly, members of different religions cannot marry each other. The same is true for same-sex couples and those who have no religion (yes, such concept exists in terms of Israeli legislation.)
Even within the same religion, we see significant limitations on the freedom to choose a partner and get married. For example, a divorced or widowed woman cannot marry a Cohen, even if both of them are completely secular; meanwhile, a childless widow must marry her single brother-in-law, unless the proper ceremony is undertaken. Moreover, seculars must submit to a religious ceremony (unless they can afford to travel abroad and hold a civil marriage ceremony.) On top of that, religious ceremonies are only recognized if they are Orthodox and are being conducted by a rabbi who was authorized by the Rabbinate.
Therefore, as opposed to the common perception, the limitations on our freedom to marry apply to most of the population (as most of it is secular,) rather than to certain minority groups. This is precisely the reason why Yisrael Beiteinu’s “partnership covenant” proposal is problematic: It will only apply to those who are unable to marry in line with religious laws. It is also not comprehensive (a “partnership covenant” is not quite the same as marriage, but rather, apparently a sort of defective marriage.) In addition, it indirectly serves to reinforce the common perception that marriages in Israel mostly offer equality, with the exception of a few anomalies that can be addressed relatively easily, such as the immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
The attempt to ameliorate the ills of the system via the “partnership covenant” will be a giant step backwards: The proposal refers to “man and woman,” and will therefore not apply to two men or two women, even though the courts already recognized homo-lesbian partnerships. Moreover, it will apparently not apply to secular Jews who are entitled to marry via the rabbinate yet prefer a civil ceremony. The same is true for Jews who cannot marry because to their misfortune they fell in love with disqualified marriage partners according to Jewish law (such as a Cohen and a divorcee.) In addition, Jewish women must pray that the man they marry will not refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce should they desire it.
The Italian precedent
Introducing civil marriage ceremonies that are equal and open to all is the only way to resolve the discrimination. If Catholic states such as Italy were able to introduce civil marriages, there is no reason this can’t happen in the Jewish State: After all, the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce at all (as opposed to Judaism,) and therefore the introduction of civil marriage (and divorce) was a much more dramatic step in a Catholic state than it would be here.
Meanwhile, the “national split” that those who object to civil marriages warn us of should not deter us: After all, the “nation” has been split for a long time now; in any case, the daughter of a Hassidic leader cannot marry a secular man, even if both of them are unquestionably Jewish.
The partnership covenant proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu will merely serve to perpetuate the exiting problems, and therefore it would be best if such law is not passed in its current format. The party’s platform says that “marriage and the creation of a family unit are a clear expression of a person’s self-fulfillment” – so why shun all other groups that are discriminated against and only be concerned with one group?
Dr. Zvi Triger is a family and contract law lecturer at the Academic College’s Law School