Israel raises minimum marriage age from 17 to 18

Bill passes third reading by a large margin, over ultra-Orthodox MKs’ bitter opposition

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

An illustrative photo of marriage (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)
An illustrative photo of marriage (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

A bill raising the minimum legal marriage age from 17 to 18 passed its second and third readings in the Knesset Monday to become law.

The previous law set the minimum age at 17. In addition, family courts were authorized to permit minors even younger than than to marry.

Violating the new law carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

The bill that cleared the plenum Monday, besides setting the age at 18, allows the family court to recognize a marriage for minors in special cases — but only above 16 years of age, and only after it interviews the applicants and receives the recommendation of a social worker.

In addition, the ministers of justice, the interior, religious affairs, and public security, are required to submit an annual report on the marriage of minors to the Knesset, which would include statistics on the numbers of exemptions requested, exemptions granted, and individuals prosecuted.

The legislation raised the ire of ultra-Orthodox parliamentarians, who argued it would infringe on the rights of religious teenagers who wished to start families.

“Seventeen-year-olds are allowed to vote in local elections,” said MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism). “We trust them in democratic elections but don’t trust them to marry?”

“If we had proposed a law like that, everyone would burst out, ‘Why are they getting involved in people’s personally lives?’” said UTJ’s Yisrael Eichler. “But here, when someone wants to marry under the age of 17, they want to interfere? What insolence. If there is a case where a social workers knows there is a problem, then let them forbid it, but don’t generalize for the entire country.”

The third reading passed with 55 votes for and 11 against.

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