“The marriage and divorce of Jews in Israel shall be premised on Torah laws,” Israel’s existing legislation stipulates. The moment the new civil marriage bill, which is seemingly meant to enable “Israelis without religion” to “wed” in Israel, will be passed, our laws will receive new religious backwind.
From now on, religious monitoring will not only be imposed on “whole” Jews, but also on “half Jews” – that is, citizens who only have a Jewish father and who constitute most “Israelis without religion” in this country. (Notably, these people are Jewish just like anybody else according to logic, decency, and also based on the Law of Return.)
And so an “Israeli without religion” who falls in love with a “whole Jew” will not be recorded in the marriage registry, in order to prevent assimilation, as the rabbis refer to it. The registration would be allowed only when both partners are “without religion” and only after receiving rabbinical confirmation (!) of this status.
What we have here is a cynical move created by the haredi sect: The Jewish State will be absurdly asking some of its citizens – who view themselves as Jewish and who moved to Israel based on this – to deny their personal Jewish identity only in order to allow them to be recorded in the marriage registry.
The number of couples who comprise two partners who are “without religion” is estimated at 150 annually – that is, a total of roughly 300 people. This is a tiny percentage of all citizens whose status was supposed to be rectified by this “revolutionary” bill. Moreover, given the fact that haredi rabbis will be the ones to determine who is “without religion,” we can assume that their chronic anxieties will bring the number of couples under the new law down to almost zero.
The new civil marriage law, which will be adopted with the agreement of haredi party Shas, will serve for a long time as a fig leaf that hides the outrage whereby citizens who do not want to marry in line with religious law are discriminated against. This legislation will also put an end to the efforts to legislate a true civil marriage law.
Don’t count on High Court
What we see here is not a “hole in the dam” or a move that weakens the rabbinical monopoly, but rather, the other way around. This dam will be padded by another layer of cynicism and regulation, as well as humiliation robbing more Jews of what they view as their Jewish identity.
The cohesion of the Jews in Israel is being undermined again, because the State chooses to entrench its Jewish identity only based on a haredi anchor while distancing from the roots of Judaism, which are about flexibility and tolerance. This creates a platform for a society that turns Jewish law into idolatry and neutralizes our ties with the majority of Diaspora Jews.
The hope that the High Court of Justice will intervene and change the law because of the inequality it creates is a false hope. As was the case in the past, the High Court will not get involved in favor of changing marriage and divorce laws. This issue is under the authority of the Israeli Knesset, which is disappointing us again.
The additional drawbacks of the new law highlight the bluff: Approval of the marriage will only come after a year and a half, a case of discrimination vis-à-vis married couples. The legal status is unclear in other countries. Partners will not be banned from marrying others while still in the marriage registry, thereby creating bigamy.
The only advantage of this law is that it does not undermine the status of common law couples, yet this makes the legislation needless because at this time already Israelis “without religion” can apply this status without the humiliation and denial of their identity, and without the permission of the Rabbinate, which rejected their Jewishness to begin with.
And so, the process of Orthodox takeover in Israel has made another legal gain, this time in the name of seemingly civil marriages.
The awareness of human rights among the so-called “secular” community is so embarrassing that he haredim are able to enhance their hold even through a seemingly civil revolution. There is no democracy in the world where State laws force a religious identity on people in order for them to get married. This wholly contradicts a basic human right, as manifested in the human right declarations of France, the United States, and the United Nations.
Without a constitution that includes this fundamental element, a state cannot refer to itself as “democratic.” And so, Israel is again defining itself not as a democracy, but rather, as a theocracy.
Yair Rotkovich is one of the founders of the Tkasim website, the Portal of Jewish Secular Rites