‘On marriage freedom, Israel as bad as Iran’

In map published by progressive NGO Hiddush, Jewish state is the only democracy that imposes ‘severe restrictions’ on unions

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Illustrative photo of a wedding (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a wedding (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Hiddush, an Israeli NGO that monitors religious freedom, claimed Sunday that Israel is ranked in the bottom 23 percent of world nations in terms of the restrictions it imposes on marriage — on a par with countries such as Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran.

The NGO posted a map of the world that groups countries based on a scale of three “freedom levels,” from worst to best — “severe restrictions” (0); “partial restrictions” (1); and “freedom of marriage” (2).

Israel was described as having “severe restrictions”: A list on the Hiddush website described — next to Israel’s entry — the restrictions imposed by the country’s Orthodox rabbinic establishment on people who wish to marry.

“Only recognized religious marriage ceremonies are allowed,” the text read. “For Jews, only weddings that are held according to strict Orthodox standards are accepted. There is no option for civil marriage or interfaith marriage. Weddings conducted outside of the country are recognized. 300,000 citizens are defined as ‘without religion’ and they are unable to get married in the country.”

“The main objective of the map was to illustrate Israel’s dire position alongside the most backward of Muslim countries, far from acceptable practice in the democratic world,” said Hiddush president, Rabbi Uri Regev. “We’re hoping the harsh picture arising from the map will help advance a policy change in Israel that will lead to complete freedom of marriage.”

Regev argued that freedom to marry without discrimination was not only a universal human right, but in line with the vision set forth in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Of the 194 countries marked on the map, 93 countries (48%), including most Western democracies, have total freedom; 56  governments (29%), including those of India and Turkey, impose “partial restrictions”; and 45 countries (23%) impose “severe restrictions.” Israel is the only democracy in the latter, alongside most Muslim countries and North Korea.

Israel’s Orthodox establishment largely contends that, as a Jewish state, Israel must safeguard the traditional laws of marriage. Many of the limitations on marriage imposed by Jewish law were put into place due to the broad definition of what constitutes adultery. Children born of adulterous unions, and the offspring of a relationship between a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman, are forbidden by halacha from marrying Jews.

Reached for comment, Nachman Rosenberg, a senior aide of Rabbi David Stav — a leading contender for the position of Ashkenazi chief rabbi — called Hiddush “extremist” and said Orthodox restrictions were in line with the vision propounded by Israel’s founders. 

In a map published by Hiddush, Israel can be seen among other countries that impose 'severe restrictions' on marriage. (photo credit: hiddush.org)
In a map published by Hiddush, Israel can be seen among other countries that impose ‘severe restrictions’ on marriage. (photo credit: hiddush.org)

“We should be less concerned with questionable, biased ‘research’ from extremist factions and more focused on the survival and continuity of the Jewish people,” Rosenberg told The Times of Israel. “The negative state of marriage and divorce in Israel is mostly the result of dirty bureaucracy and politics, which has nothing to do with Jewish tradition.”

Rosenberg cited a recent report to the effect that “more than 80% of Israelis are indeed in favor of a religious Jewish marriage ceremony.”

Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor Party) acknowledged that most Israelis prefer to marry according to Jewish tradition, but “that doesn’t mean for one second that we can allow ourselves to coerce those who can’t do so, or aren’t interested in doing so,” she said. “We’re a Western and modern state, and the choice between getting married according to Jewish law and civil marriage is a basic and necessary choice in a democracy.”

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