Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who is considered a leading authority by the hareidi-religious Ashkenazi community, ruled Thursday that there should be no compromise regarding civil marriages in Israel. Such marriages should not be allowed even between non-Jews, he said.
Rabbi Elyashiv explained that if civil marriages between non-Jews were to be allowed, it would send a dangerous precedent to the High Court, which might allow civil marriage between Jews, as well.
Rabbi Elyashiv's ruling was seen as a blow to coalition talks between Likud and the hareidi-religious United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party. Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home) has demanded legalization of civil marriage as a condition for joining the Likud coalition, and if Likud accepts, the decision may leave UTJ with no choice but to sit in the opposition.
Rabbi Elyashiv explained that it is precisely now, when a narrow right-wing coalition appears to be forming, UTJ must not allow changing the status quo preventing civil marriage. “If the government would become established by our support, this would be considered as if we allowed the civil marriage law with our own hands,” the rabbi said.
A close confident of Rabbi Elyashiv explained the rabbi’s consideration. “If a wide-based coalition would be established, we wouldn’t be able to have an influence on the decision, and we would oppose it. When the establishment of a government is dependent upon us, the rabbi opposes our entry if it would allow civil marriage [legislation] to pass.”
The source furthermore stated that it was preferable to publicize Rabbi Elyashiv’s position in advance. That is to avoid charges that negotiations were stonewalled due to differences related to UTJ’s budgetary demands. Nonetheless, during coalition talks between Likud and Shas, it was decided that the religious party would keep a low profile regarding civil marriage so as not to arouse opposition from Avigdor Leiberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, which sees the civil marriage issue as one of their bargaining chips.
The status quo agreement that the Rabbi referred to was established between Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the religious parties, at the time of the declaration of independence in 1948. One of the key points of the agreement is that the Chief Rabbinate has authority over issuing kosher certification, the Sabbath, Jewish burial and marital issues (especially divorce), and the Jewish status of immigrants.
Under current status quo laws, all Jewish marriages, divorces, and conversions conducted within the State of Israel must be first registered through the Chief Rabbinate. The status quo thus allows one’s Jewish status to be determined by a state-sanctioned religious entity.
Couples that have married abroad, whether according to Jewish law or not, are recognized as “married” according to the tenets of the Geneva Convention, which the State of Israel recognizes. Many couples wishing to marry without a religious ceremony do so in Cyprus and elsewhere and then return to Israel. If Avigdor Lieberman’s civil marriage proposal passes, it would allow Israelis to marry in a civil ceremony within the borders of Israel.