As Jewish Israelis lose trust, fewer are marrying through the Rabbinate

The number of Jews registering weddings with the state body has decreased since 2011, even as the population has grown by more than 20%, religious advocacy group finds

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: An Israeli couple photographed for their wedding at a blossoming almond tree field in Latrun on February 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israeli couple photographed for their wedding at a blossoming almond tree field in Latrun on February 25, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Fewer and fewer Jewish Israelis are marrying through the rabbinate, according to new data recently obtained by a religious activist group, which blames the trend on diminishing trust in the institution.

In 2022, roughly 38,900 couples registered marriages through the Chief Rabbinate, nearly the same number as in 2011, despite the fact that the Jewish population of Israel has grown by 20 percent in the intervening years. In addition, of the couples that registered in 2022, 17 percent had their weddings performed through a recognized organization outside of the rabbinate, either the more liberal Orthodox Tzohar or an ultra-Orthodox private rabbinic court.

The figures were released by the ITIM religious advocacy group, which obtained them through a freedom of information request.

“The trend is clear. More and more Jewish couples are choosing not to marry through the Chief Rabbinate. This is an expression of public distrust in rabbinic institutions, and the Chief Rabbinate cannot continue to ignore these figures,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, who leads ITIM.

A recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that just 30% of Jewish Israelis said they had significant trust in the Chief Rabbinate. Among self-identified secular Jews, who represent 41% of Israel’s Jewish population, less than 10% say they have trust in the Chief Rabbinate — its lowest rating ever.

“The current behavior of the Chief Rabbinate is pushing Jews away from Judaism and is damaging the Jewish character of the state. We are calling for the ranks to be opened and for more Jewish organizations to be allowed to register marriages in Israel. This is a national priority of the first order,” Farber said.

In 2011, 38,936 Jewish couples registered as married through the rabbinate, out of a total Jewish population of approximately 5.9 million people. In 2022, when Israel’s Jewish population was roughly 7.1 million, or 22% higher than in 2011, slightly fewer couples — 38,885 — registered as married through the rabbinate.

Farber acknowledged that at least a portion of the drop in the rates of rabbinate marriages is due to a general trend in Israeli society of fewer people getting married, or at least not in ways recognized by the state, such as with same-sex couples. But he said this cannot account for the entire discrepancy.

“Yes, some of those people are not getting married at all, which is an interesting enough phenomenon that needs to be explored. But some of them are just saying forget it, we’re not interested in getting married in the Rabbinate,” he said.

The Central Bureau of Statistics has found a growing trend of Israeli couples living together without being married. According to the CBS, the percentage of Israelis between the ages of 18 and 34 who were listed as living with one person of the opposite sex tripled from 2000 to 2019.

Farber often fights on behalf of Israelis who face significant challenges in dealing with the institution, perhaps most notably converts to Judaism and Israelis from the former Soviet Union or their offspring, who are subjected to invasive investigations of their Jewishness and forced to provide documentation well beyond what is required of others.

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