A recent report from Haaretz found that a growing number of Jewish couples are getting married outside of the Chief Rabbinate and with full knowledge that their marriages will not be recognized by the state.
The study found that at least 2,434 Jewish marriage ceremonies were conducted outside of the Rabbinate’s authority last year. That figure is up 8% from the previous year.
No official figures exist for the number of marriages performed outside of the Rabbinate in Israel, but the study’s findings are still concerning. Couples who marry outside of the Rabbinate cannot register as married with the Population Registry.
The ceremonies in question were conducted by Reform, Conservative and even Orthodox rabbis as well as nonaffiliated wedding officiants. None of the couples married in these ceremonies registered with the Rabbinate or held their ceremonies with a certified representative, as is required.
Many couples are circumventing the Rabbinate by marrying overseas and registering themselves as married when they return home. Some are getting married unofficially in Israel and then hold a civil ceremony abroad so that they can register as married when they return.
Mixed-faith couples and couples of other faiths are forced to travel overseas to get married if they want their marriage recognized in Israel. The high expense of traveling can put marriage out of reach for couples of other faiths.
Gay couples are also choosing to marry in private ceremonies abroad or intimate ceremonies in Israel.
Israel stands alone as the only country in the Western world that does not permit civil marriage. But it seems as though Israelis are protesting the Rabbinate in the only way they know how: avoiding it entirely. Interestingly, the study found that most of the Israelis who chose private ceremonies were eligible to be married under the Rabbinate, but chose not to.
Some Israelis are just having private ceremonies and forgoing the entire overseas civil ceremony. By going this route, they can also avoid having to hire a divorce attorney and go through the Rabbinate to get a divorce.
The actual number of Israelis marrying through private ceremonies is likely much higher than the study indicates simply because it’s impossible to include every single ceremony in the data.
The rise in private ceremonies is at least partly to blame for the decline in registered marriages in Israel. In fact, the number of Jewish couples married through the Rabbinate is down 4% from the previous year.
What’s even more interesting is that Orthodox rabbis appear to be officiating some of these weddings, which is against the law. They could face two years in jail if they were convicted, although none have been thus far.
The study found that most couples holding private wedding ceremonies are secular Jews opposed to the Rabbinate and what it represents. Changes have been proposed, but those changes have not moved forward. No matter your opinion on the matter, there’s one thing we can all agree on: people are obviously calling for change. And having a growing number of unofficial married couples will likely not benefit Israel.