Controversial conditional marriage nixed by rabbinical court

Judges ruled couple detoured Halakhic marriage laws, then asked for retroactive approval. Women's group threatens Supreme Court appeal.

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Hillel Fendel,

Marriage/Wedding (Illustration)
Marriage/Wedding (Illustration)

The Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem has once again affirmed that Jewish Law forbids conditional marriage, refusing to grant retroactive approval to a marriage that was entered into "on condition."

A conditional marriage is one that can supposedly be annulled retroactively even years later if a given condition is not fulfilled. Recently, a couple entered into just such an arrangement. The marriage was not registered with the local rabbinic office, involved a prenuptial agreement with various conditions, was officiated over by an unlicensed person – and the couple then asked the Rabbinical Court to approve it.

The rabbinical judges, presided over by Rabbi Uriel Lavie, ruled: "The applicants were aware of the need to register their marriage, but since they sought to marry in a way not accepted by the recognized Rabbinate offices, they circumvented the procedure and then asked the Court to confirm that they were married according to Jewish Law."

The original wedding ceremony included a contract with detailed conditions, stipulating that the marriage is valid only as long as the conditions apply. The contract stated, inter alia, that if the couple separates for a stipulated duration, or the women is impregnated by another man, or the husband dies without children and his wife then requires chalitzah, the marriage is retroactively annulled. According to Jewish Law, however, a marriage ends only with death or divorce.

The rabbinical court ruled that the arrangement is a "breaking down of the fence [of Jewish Law] and a provocative challenge to ancient Jewish customs. [The couple thought] that after presenting a fait accompli to the court, they could 'force' it to approve the procedure retroactively, thus voiding of all meaning both Halakhah and Israeli regulations. "

The judges further ruled that the couple is now listed as "unable to marry others" until they duly marry each other in a legal manner.

Batya Kahana-Dror, a women's rights lawyer who heads the Mavoi Satum (Dead End) organization representing the couple, said she plans to appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary: "This ruling is solely for the purpose of maintaining the rabbinic-establishment monopoly in Israel and to permanently institutionalize the Rabbinate's doctrine for Jewish marriage… The Rabbinical Court is simply not willing to issue a certificate honoring this marriage."

Arutz Sheva asked Ms. Kahana-Dror if her claim to the Supreme Court would in fact be based on the claim that the Court wishes to maintain its monopoly: "Do you expect the Supreme Court to rule that because the Rabbinical Court wishes to continue to exercise its State-granted authority, it may not do so?"

She responded: "I do not challenge the fact that the Rabbinical Court has this authority… The problem is that this ruling leaves them in limbo… and also determines that the very making of the conditions places their marriage in doubt, and this, in my opinion, stems from policy considerations. On the other hand, the ruling proves that the couple had no choice but to wed outside the Rabbinic Court, because the Court does not allow them to enter marry 'on condition.'"

The bottom line, it would seem, is that the lawyer simply does not accept Jewish Law as determined by the Rabbinical Court – and in fact she so stated: "In my opinion, conditional marriage is the only way to marry Halakhically and prevent divorce-refusal."

Kahane-Dror has praised Rabbinic Court President Rabbi Uriel Lavie in the past for his "breakthrough" approach. The case in question involved the validation of a divorce for a woman whose husband's medical condition precluded him from knowingly giving the divorce. She praised, at the time, Rabbi Lavie's appointment as President of the Jerusalem Rabbincial Court, saying he had given a "boost to rabbinical court rulings with his precedent of enabling a divorce when the husband is in a coma. His promotion means the acceptance of his Halakhic breakthrough approach, which could be important news for many women in Israel."