When marriage is a crime

Hoping the next government abolishes prison terms for couples who wed without the rabbinate's blessing

Not too long ago, rabbis all over the world were allowed to preside over weddings wherever they were. There was no registry and there was no governmental body overseeing the individual rabbis. There was a trust that seems to be lacking today. Today, the rabbinate of Israel has a monopoly on weddings. So much so, that last week a proposal I made to abolish a prison term for couples who did not register was rejected. For more on the matter see Am I going to Jail? by Rabbi Seth Farber.

The question I pose to you is why? Why keep a law that clearly limits our privacy, our freedom of religion? Why must we continue to force the will of the rabbinate on those who would choose otherwise? The law leaves us in an absurd position, one where in today’s world, many young couples are choosing to marry in a religious ceremony but not under the auspices of the rabbinate and are subject to a clause that could send them to prison if they don’t register their marriage! Is this the state we want to live in, a state where a couple can’t choose the way in which they will marry — and on what should be the happiest day of their lives?

It remains to be seen if the law will actually be implemented, but even if it isn’t, why keep it? The only thing it is achieving now is the exact opposite of the framers’ intention. The law is meant to prevent unions that produce offspring who are illegitimate under Jewish religious law. This can happen when people marry outside the rabbinate, then divorce — again not through the rabbinate — and then remarry and have children.

The way things are now, couples that get divorced will stay as far away from the rabbinate as possible in order to avoid jail time, leaving their children to be illegitimate in the eyes of Jewish law. Erasing the clause in the law would allow those couples, who may have chosen to marry without the rabbinate, to divorce through the rabbinate, making their future children legitimate.

Is this how we want our government to see us, as striving for illegitimacy? No! We are striving for equality, for the freedom to choose how we practice our religion, how we view ourselves as people. Instead of driving a wedge between the people and within the government, these ideals should instead be the foundation of a common goal for all citizens of Israel to be able to practice their religion without fear or shame.

The law can be changed, it wouldn’t take much effort. We have tried to make changes that are for the benefit of all the people in Israel and this is a change that will benefit everyone, whether it is those who always planned to register or those who were on the fence about registering, and even those who were adamant about not registering from an ideological standpoint. We as citizens, nay, as humans, should be appalled at the way the government has dealt with this matter. We are allowing government to trample our civil rights and doing so without putting up much of a fight.

With the disbanding of the government this past week, the task of making this change, any change, has become harder. Legislation not yet approved by the ministers will not be continued as possible laws in the next government. The process will need to be started over from scratch. This makes the challenge of achieving equality all the more daunting. We must wait for the new government so that we may govern.

But we have the opportunity to shape the government according to our vision, the opportunity to form a government that chooses to uphold our rights and sees us for what we are. We must all stand up for what’s right, for what is decent. We must act the way we want others to act towards us. Be a beacon to the rest of the world and show progress instead of regression.

Despite all that has happened with the government in the past week, I strongly disagree with the way this particular law has been handled. I fully intend to continue to work for what is right, uphold the rights of the few and strive for equality and freedom among all the citizens of this great nation.

About the Author
Dr. Aliza Lavie served as a member of the Knesset for Yesh Atid between 2013 and 2019, serving as chair of the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. She is a senior lecturer at the School of Communication at Bar-Ilan University.
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