However the Israel Government Chooses to Act, the Chief Rabbinate Is Losing Its Control over Marriage

September 9, 2019 | Shmuel Rosner
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The Israeli chief rabbinate’s exclusive control over marriage and divorce has long caused discontent, even if little has come from politicians’ calls for reform. But now, argues Shmuel Rosner, the rabbinate’s monopoly may have been broken without the Knesset passing a single bill:

[S]ome things aren’t determined by legislators and ministers. They are determined by the people. . . . First, support for relaxing laws governing the marriage market is widespread. . . . Sixty percent of Likud voters support [official recognition of non-Orthodox] marriages, [as do] 94 percent of Blue and White voters. . . .

The second issue clarified in the past few weeks is that a growing number of Israelis already are voting with their feet on this issue. The Central Bureau of Statistics released new data revealing that about 35,000 Jewish couples were married by the rabbinate in 2017. In the same year, another 8,000 couples married outside of the rabbinate—some in Cyprus, some in the Czech Republic, or the United States. So, the number of ceremonies abroad is already close to one-fifth of all weddings of Israeli Jews. At the same time, the number of Israelis who don’t even bother to marry legally also has risen.

The rabbinate has a product to sell. It is the only institution legally allowed to sell this product. And yet, people aren’t buying it. If the secular half of the public turns its back on the rabbinate, all the known arguments for the exclusivity of a rabbinate-mandated route—the most common of which is the need to maintain the unity of the people—collapse. I suspect they have already collapsed.

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