Due to prohibitions on civil and non-Orthodox weddings, 666,000 Israelis are unable to marry at all under Israeli law, the Knesset caucus on religion and state heard on Monday. Of these, 364,000 are immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

According to Hiddush, an advocacy group that presented a report on the subject to the caucus, these are Israelis who do not fit any state-recognized religious categories — Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Druze, etc. — for which the state offers a publicly funded religious court system. Israel has no civil marriage.

This reality leads some 20 percent of Israeli couples to register their marriages abroad, Hiddush said.

The group quoted a survey that found some 70% of secular Israelis would choose to marry outside the Orthodox state rabbinate if they were legally allowed to do so.

Hiddush founder Rabbi Uri Regev (courtesy)

Hiddush founder Rabbi Uri Regev (Courtesy)

“The rabbinate’s monopoly not only fails to contribute to preserving Judaism; it is a cause for the public’s hatred of Judaism, identifying [the religion] with dark zealotry,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, head of Hiddush.

Growing numbers of Israelis “wish to be free of the rabbinate’s shackles,” he said, adding that the “monopoly of the rabbinate” hurts Judaism because it “leads the general public to hate Judaism and identify it with dark, ugly extremism.”

In addition to many immigrants, those unable to wed in Israel — because civil and non-Orthodox Jewish weddings performed here are not legally recognized — include 284,000 gays and lesbians, 13,000 non-Orthodox converts to Judaism and various others, according to Hiddush.

A poll conducted for the group found that 64 percent of Jewish-Israelis support “official recognition of all types of marriage,” including same-sex partnerships.

Hiddush reported that only 45 countries in the world, most of them Muslim, have marriage policies as restrictive as Israel’s.

The figures are based on Central Bureau of Statistics numbers, a poll conducted by pollster Mina Tzemach for a religion-and-state advocacy group, and public opinion research by Smith Consulting, Hiddush said.