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Laws to Reform Marriage, Conversion

Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) seeks to ease marriage, conversion for Israel's non-Jewish citizens.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 3/4/2010, 9:40 PM / Last Update: 3/5/2010, 1:09 PM

Flash 90

The Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party is preparing two laws that, if passed, would have a significant impact on marriage and conversion among Israelis with no religious affiliation. One would create a civil marriage option, while the other would ease the conversion process by city rabbis to perform conversions.

The conversion law will face an initial vote next week. It seeks to cut the bureaucracy that currently faces would-be converts by allowing converts the freedom to work with a city rabbi of their choice. In addition, the law would prevent conversions performed by the Israeli Rabbinate from being overturned retroactively.

"This law, when it passes, will make the entire country one region for purposes of conversion,” the party explained. “City and regional rabbis will be able to perform and register conversions, and even to marry two partners, one of whom is a convert, with no connection to their place of residence.”

The marriage bill will be presented in two stages, with the first stage facing a vote next week. The bill would allow non-Jews who are not affiliated with any other religion to marry in civil ceremonies.

Currently, all Israeli citizens who wish to marry must do so through a representative of a religious faith. The situation poses a problem for those who are not Jewish according to Jewish law, but who do not identify with any other faith. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens, most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union, have no religious affiliation.

MK David Rotem suggested that the law would be used as a first step toward allowing all of Israel's citizens to wed in civil marriage ceremonies if they choose to do so. “Yisrael Beiteinu will not ignore its promises to its voters, and will continue to try to pass a law allowing for civil marriages on a broader scale. We believe in solving problems one step at a time,” he said.

“There are groups that attack Yisrael Beiteinu and say we haven't kept our promises regarding civil marriage, because the bill creates two groups of citizens in Israel,” Rotem said. “These groups have taken the attitude of 'all or nothing' for 62 years, and have not managed to make a single breakthrough. Yisrael Beiteinu believes that we should work in stages, by breaking down one barrier, then continuing onward.”

The religious parties are expected to oppose the change, as it will allow Jews to marry through civil marriage, thus turning marriage according to Jewish law into a process that will need investigation of both sides, not only to be sure they are indeed Jewish but to see that they can be wed according to Jewish law. There are certain prohibitions in Jewish law that make the descendants of some non halakhic (Jewish legal) marriages irrevocabley unable to marry Jews halakhically.