Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Government to support non-Jewish civil marriage law

Couples not considered Jewish according to Jewish law will be able to tie the knot in a civil marriage, following a consensus on a bill reached Wednesday between Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar.

This is the first time that the religious establishment has given the go-ahead to a civil marriage and divorce procedure. However, the bill drafted by Friedmann and Amar, will be restricted to cases in which both spouses are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law (halakha). ...

Meretz Chairman MK Yossi Beilin called the bill a "deception which does not mean civil marriage, but [which] increases the isolation and discrimination against new immigrants who are not defined as Jews."

"Instead of letting them integrate into Israeli society, the initiative places them in a ghetto, further isolating them from society. For this miserable reform, the prime minister expanded the Chief Rabbinate's powers in conversion procedures," Beilin said.

IRAC said the initiative would only solve the problem of a small minority of Israelis defined as having no religion.

The statement from the Justice Ministry said that these sorts of marriages would take place in a civil court and would be under family court jurisdiction.

Not one of the happier features of Israeli life. The Orthodox rabbinate has had a stranglehold on many matters of family law (affecting the Jewish population) since the founding of the State, with little role for more liberal Jewish denominations (which have a fairly limited presence in Israel) or for secular civil law. This is a matter of raw, brute politics; in the Israeli multi-party parliamentary system, the major secular parties are dependent on coalitions with one or more of the (Orthodox) religious parties, which are not willing to bargain away their monopoly powers in this domain. From my perspective, this system has nothing to recommend it, and is a source of considerable hostility toward religion in Israel.

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