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Knesset Moves Toward Civil Unions

Would provide marriage rights for non-Jewish Israelis

by
Ari M. Brostoff
October 27, 2009

A bill being prepared in Israel’s Knesset would allow persons “without religion” to partner in civil unions, in contrast to the current requirement that all marriage in Israel be approved by religious authorities. The bill aims to address the situation of people such as many Russian immigrants or converts to Judaism who are not considered Jewish by the rabbis. But is this a real step away from ultra-Orthodox authority over the lives of Israelis? An editorial on the website of Hiddush, an Israeli religious rights organization, argues that the bill will actually create a caste of “lepers” who are only allowed to partner with each other. Presumably, those people could still wed outside the country, as has been the case for years, but having them split off as a category cements their second-class citizenship, Hiddush argues, and could “perpetuate ad infinitum their foreignness and difference from the rest of Israel’s residents whose Judaism the rabbinate recognizes.”

An op-ed in Ynet is a bit more optimistic, arguing that the bill is a step in the right direction though one that, because it only refers to those who can prove they are “without religion,” only applies to a small percentage of people who wish to wed in Israel. “Before the union is confirmed, the registrar will have to publish the details of the request and each religious court will have the opportunity to examine whether either member of the couple belongs to its community,” the op-ed points out, quoting another commentator. “If there is a dispute over the matter, the religious court will make the final decision…. So, does this mean that the Rabbinical Courts are now (also) determining ‘Who is NOT a Jew’?”

Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.

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