Daily Israel Report

Civil Marriage for Non-Jews

Knesset passes pared-down version of the civil marriage bill, enabling those of “no religion” to join together in something akin to marriage.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 3/16/2010, 1:20 PM / Last Update: 3/16/2010, 1:28 PM

A pared-down version of the civil marriage bill has been passed in the Knesset, enabling those of “no religion” to be joined together in something akin to marriage.

The bill was led by the Israel Our Home party, whose leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, hailed the 56-4 Knesset vote as “historic.” However, in reality it is just a shadow of the bill that Lieberman promised his voters he would pass.

Lieberman has long been touting a bill that would enable couples forbidden by Jewish Law to marry each other, such as Kohanim and divorcees, Jews and non-Jews, and women who have not been formally divorced to enter a state of civil marriage. This would enable many Russian immigrants to become officially married.

However, the religious parties have long unequivocally opposed such ideas, explaining that this would create havoc in the Jewish Nation and would force the creation of “permitted” and “not permitted” family trees that would keep track of the children of not permitted marriages.

Ultimately, it was agreed to promote a bill that would institutionalize civil marriage in Israel only between non-Jews. It was this bill that passed on Monday, with only four nay-sayers: Three Meretz party MKs and MK Dov Hanin (Hadash).

“The passage of this bill is one of those moments that is registered in the historic pages of the Knesset and the State of Israel,” an ecstatic Lieberman said.

However, Meretz MKs say that only one “for whom this bill does anything for is Avigdor Lieberman himself. Barely 300 people a year will be able to benefit from it.”

MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) said beforehand that he would support the bill, but only grudgingly: “It could cause many problems, such as Jews coming and saying they are not Jewish; who can prove that they in fact are Jewish?... It’s true that the bill has limitations which angered Meretz, who wanted same-sex marriages, and it provides a solution for non-Jews, and it received the OK from Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar… and therefore we will support it.”

Another champion of the bill was national-religious MK David Rotem of the Israel Our Home party. "Rotem represents a party with 300,000 potential voters who would benefit from civil marriage," Ben-Ari said, "but we represent Jewish Law, and therefore we cannot support a blanket civil marriage bill."