Marriage in Israel
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In Israel, marriages can be performed only under the auspices of the religious community to which couples belong, and no religious intermarriages performed in the country are legally recognized. Matrimonial law is based on the millet or confessional community system employed in the Ottoman Empire, which was not modified during the British Mandate and remains in force in the State of Israel.
In addition to the respective faiths of Jewish, Muslim and Druze communities in Israel, Israel recognizes ten distinct denominations of Christianity. Marriages in each community are under the jurisdiction of their own religious authorities. The religious authority for Jewish marriages performed in Israel is the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Rabbinical courts. The Israeli Interior Ministry registers marriages on presentation of proper documentation. Israel’s religious authorities — the only entities authorized to perform weddings in Israel — are prohibited from marrying couples unless both partners share the same religion. Therefore, interfaith couples can be legally married in Israel only if one of the partners converts to the religion of the other. However, civil, interfaith and same-sex marriages entered into abroad are recognized by the state.
Over 50 percent of Israelis marry before age 25, with marriage rates much higher among Israeli Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox than among secular Jews, according to statistics released 18 June 2019 by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Under the Ottoman Empire all matters of a religious nature and personal status, which included marriage, were within the jurisdiction of Muslim courts and the courts of other recognized religions, called confessional communities, under a system known as millet. Capitulation Treaties also permitted the registration of marriages and divorces in the British, German, American and other consulates during the Ottoman period. Jewish religious matters were handled by the Hakham Bashi and the Jewish courts.
Article 14 of the British Mandate of Palestine required the mandatory administration to establish a commission to study, define, and determine the rights and claims relating to the different religious communities in Palestine. Article 15 required the mandatory administration to see to it that complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship were permitted. Those mandates were never enforced or put into effect. The High Commissioner established the Orthodox Rabbinate and retained a modified millet system that recognized eleven religious communities: Sunni Islam, Orthodox Judaism, and nine Christian denominations. All those who were not members of these recognised communities were excluded from the millet arrangement, and "marriages" conducted in Palestine outside these communities were not recognised. Consular marriages remained customary during the British Mandate and civil divorces granted in other countries were registered and recognized by the mandatory administration. Provision was made for the registration of marriages, but not for the manner in which marriages would be conducted.
In 1947 David Ben-Gurion and the religious parties reached an agreement that included an understanding that matters of personal status in Israel, which included marriage, would continue to be determined by religious authorities. This arrangement has been termed the status quo agreement and has been maintained despite numerous changes of government since. Under the arrangement, the Mandate period confessional system would continue, with membership in the Jewish community being on the basis of membership of a body called "Knesset Israel", which was a voluntary organization that managed registrations of people who were related to it—that is, those recognised as Jews. There does not seem to have been any dispute at the time of who was a Jew. However, in 1953 rabbinical courts were established under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel with jurisdiction over marriage and divorce for all Jews in Israel. The rabbinate's standards and interpretations in these matters are generally used by the Israeli Interior Ministry in registering marriages and divorces.
Halakhic restrictions on marriage are applied in Israel. So, for example, a kohen may not marry a convert to Judaism. Similarly, children of adulterous and incestuous unions are restricted as to whom they can marry. Orthodox halachic rules apply to converts who want to marry in Israel. Under these rules, a conversion to Judaism must strictly follow halachic standards to be recognised as valid. Non-Orthodox conversions are not recognized, as are some Orthodox conversions that do not meet the requirements of the Chief Rabbinate. For example, a man who converted to Orthodox Judaism in the United States was denied an official marriage in Israel because the Orthodox rabbi who converted him is not recognized in Israel. If a person's Jewish status is in doubt, then formal conversion is required in order to be allowed to marry according to the Orthodox rules, which govern all marriages between Jews in Israel. This frequently occurs with Jews from the former Soviet Union as well as Ethiopian Jews.
In October 2013, the Tzohar Law was passed, allowing for Jews to choose any rabbi recognized by the Chief Rabbinate instead of being required to be married by their community rabbi. In 2015 Tzohar (a religious Zionist rabbinic organization in Israel), along with the Israeli Bar Association, introduced a prenuptial agreement meant to help ensure divorcing wives will receive a get; under the agreement the husband commits to paying a high sum of money daily to his spouse in the event of a separation. It remains a criminal offense for Jews in Israel to marry in weddings performed outside the state’s religious authority, and doing so can result in a jail sentence of up to two years. Hiddush ranked Israel as the only Western democracy that is on a par with Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states in relation to freedom of marriage.
Most Israeli Muslims are Sunnis. In 1922, the British created the Supreme Muslim Council as the Muslim religious authority in the British Mandate of Palestine and appointed Amin al-Husayni (1895–1974) as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The council was abolished in 1948 by Jordan, but was reconstituted in Jerusalem after the Six-Day War in 1967.
Muslim marriages are conducted in accordance with sharia law. Inter-faith marriages are permitted only between Muslim men and Christian or Jewish women, who are considered Muslims after the wedding.
A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the Sharia courts without her husband's consent under certain conditions, and a marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without her husband's consent. A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court.
There are nine officially recognised churches for the purposes of marriage. These are the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Latin rite), Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean (Uniate), Melkite Greek Catholic, Maronite and Syriac Orthodox churches. In 1970, the Anglican Church was included with these recognised churches. At the same time, special arrangements for the recognition of marriage were made between the State of Israel and the Lutheran, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Coptic Orthodox churches. Christians may seek official separations or divorces, depending on the denomination, through ecclesiastical courts.
The Druze community was recognized as a separate community from the Muslim community in 1957. In 1962, separate Druze courts were established to deal with personal status issues in the Druze community, alongside the rabbinical courts, the Sharia courts, and the courts of the Christian communities.
In 2013, the minimum marriage age in Israel was raised to 18, from a previous age of 17. Previously, the marriage age was 18 for males and 17 for females, before they were equalised at 17 years.
The Israeli Supreme Court affirmed that marital rape is a crime in a 1980 decision, citing law based on the Talmud. Rape, including spousal rape, is now a felony in Israel, punishable by 16 years in prison.
Under the Penal Law Amendment (Bigamy) Law, 5719 (1959), it is illegal to marry in Israel while currently married, regardless of religion. Since 1977, attempting to take a second spouse can be punished by up to five years in jail, although the law is rarely enforced. Polygyny is nevertheless still practiced by Muslim Negev Bedouins; according to a 2013 Knesset report, 30% of Negev Bedouin men have more than one wife. Some Bedouin men use nominal divorces or unrecognized marriages with women who are not Israeli citizens in order to circumvent the law. In 2017, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked began a crackdown against the practice. Out of more than 300 cases investigated in 2018, 16 men were indicted for polygamy.
Partial recognition of civil marriage
In 1951 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that marriages entered into outside Israel conducted by a rabbinical court in accordance with halakha must be recognized in Israel. The case before the court involved a couple who were not residents or citizens of Israel at the time of their marriage. However, commentators have noted that the case did not deal with a situation where one or both of the couple were residents or citizens of Israel, nor with a civil marriage abroad.
The issue of recognition of civil marriages is of special significance in Judaism because Orthodox Judaism has various prohibitions involving marriages. The couples in these prohibited marriage situations sometimes marry overseas, mostly in Cyprus, which is near Israel.
In 1962, the Supreme Court determined that the Ministry of the Interior must register as married couples who married in a civil marriage abroad, even if either or both of the couple were citizens of Israel. The act of registration is for statistical purposes only, and not a recognition of the personal status of the couple, as registration does not determine the validity of the marriage. In 2006, the Supreme Court voted 6-1 to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries. Overseas marriages are increasingly popular, with roughly 9,000 couples registering overseas marriages with the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2011 alone.
In 2010, Israel passed the Civil Union Law for Citizens with no Religious Affiliation, 2010, allowing a couple to form a civil union in Israel if they are both registered as officially not belonging to any religion.
The issue of civil marriages is a major issue for secular Jews and members of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, who are required to meet the Orthodox standards to be able to marry in Israel.
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, more than 98% of Israelis are married to a partner of the same religion. 97% of Jews would be uncomfortable if their child married a Muslim and 89% would be uncomfortable if their child married a Christian. The vast majority of secular Jews oppose interfaith marriage.
The 1973 Spouses' Property Relations Act officially defined what assets would be divided after divorce or if one of the spouses dies, unless they both agreed beforehand. An amendment was later added to the 1973 law in 2008 to ensure that property would be divided equally among both spouses before the divorce rather than after.
The divorce process in Israel for married people of Jewish faith is administered by the Get Procedure and finalized by Rabbinical Judges. On 15 November 2016, the Get Procedure was officially regulated after State Attorney Shai Nitzan required criminal prosecution of men or women who refuse to grant or accept a divorce after being instructed to do so by a rabbinical court, although some said it would not have a dramatic impact since criminal proceedings will only be possible if the rabbinical court issues a rarely used ruling obligating a spouse to agree to the divorce. As of 2019[update], the number of Jewish divorces granted per year has been increasing; 11,145 couples divorced in 2018.
Israeli Jewish couples who marry in civil ceremonies outside Israel must divorce via the rabbinical courts. In 2018 the Knesset passed a law, slated to remain in effect for three years, allowing Israel’s rabbinical courts to handle certain cases of Jewish women wishing to divorce their Jewish husbands, even if neither spouse is an Israeli citizen.
Under the nation's Capacity and Guardianship Law, child custody is almost always granted to the mother following a divorce. In 2012, however, an amendment was added to the law to ensure that both the father and any child of the divorced parents who is at least six years of age would share equal rights as the mother as state-appointed social workers determine child custody. The age of the child with equal privilege was later lowered to two in 2013.
- Civil marriage
- Common-law marriage
- Interfaith marriage in Judaism
- Same-sex marriage in Israel
- Unregistered cohabitation in Israel
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