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Mazel Tov! I Now Pronounce You Husband and Wife (Under Israeli Law)

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Wedding; Unidentified Couple; Under the Chuppah. (Center for Jewish History, NYC Flickr page)
Wedding; Unidentified Couple; Under the Chuppah. (Source: Flickr page of Center for Jewish History, NYC)

Israelis believe in marriage. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2013 95 percent of all Israeli couples living together were married. The proportion of unmarried couples living together was relatively low in comparison to the percentage in some other OECD countries, which ranged from 7% (Italy) to 27% (Norway).

Unlike Italy and Norway and many other countries, Israel does not recognize civil marriages. Instead, Israeli couples must comply with the relevant religious requirements and their marriages are subject to the jurisdiction of their respective recognized religious authorities. This means that if you and your spouse are Jewish Israelis (and more than 75 percent of the population are), your marital status will be governed by Orthodox Jewish law and subject to the jurisdiction of the rabbinical authorities. If you are Catholic, you will have to go through a Catholic marriage ceremony for your marriage to be recognized. If you are Muslim, Shari’a law will apply to your marriage. And, of course, if you and your spouse are of different religious affiliations, or do not belong to any recognized religion under Israeli law, you will have to find other arrangements to ensure that the state recognizes your marriage. Take a short flight to Cyprus to get married and enjoy the beautiful beaches, perhaps?

Other challenges exist for Jewish couples who either do not meet the marriage requirements under Orthodox Jewish law or who wish to celebrate their marriage in non-Orthodox Jewish religious ceremonies in Israel. For example, marriages conducted in accordance with the rules of the Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism or the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel are not recognized under Israeli law.

Iranian-Kurdish Ketubbah (Jewish marriage document) (1936). Part of the Library of Congress collection of illustrated Hebraica from Iran. Source: Library of Congress Preservation Division, Treatment of Rare and Colorful Marriage Document,
Iranian-Kurdish Ketubbah (Jewish marriage document) (1936). Part of the Library of Congress collection of illustrated Hebraica from Iran. Source: Library of Congress Preservation Division, Treatment of Rare and Colorful Marriage Document,

According to a 2015 poll, only 51 percent of Israel’s total Jewish population would currently choose to get married in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony; 28 percent would prefer civil marriages and 17 percent would choose reform or conservative weddings. Furthermore, among secular Jewish couples who are qualified to marry under Jewish law, 80 percent prefer a non-Orthodox Jewish wedding, according to the poll.

How does Israeli marriage law really work? Is there a different rule applicable to the recognition of marriages performed abroad? What are the rights of couples who do not satisfy the marriage requirements? These and other complex issues involving marriage law in Israel are discussed in my recently published report, Israel: Spousal Agreements for Couples Not Belonging to Any Religion – A Civil Marriage Option?. The report describes Israeli marriage and divorce law. It also discusses problems associated with the application of religious law to Israeli residents and the passage of special legislation in 2010 which authorized the registration of spousal agreements for persons who are considered “without a religion.” The report includes an analysis of the utility of this law in resolving challenges faced by Israelis seeking recognition of marriages in circumstances where the existing marriage law does not provide a solution.

Here at the Law Library we receive a number of requests related to the family laws of different countries; it is an area of interest for comparative studies as well as simply because it impacts individuals very directly. I hope my report is helpful in explaining particular aspects of Israeli family law. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section below or, for research assistance, you can submit a request through our Ask A Librarian service.

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