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Religious affairs minister said eyeing compromise to allow civil marriages in Israel

But to allow such marriages at foreign missions, Matan Kahana reportedly wants removal of key law allowing offspring of Jews to become citizens; Liberman says it’s a non-starter

The legs of bride Lin Dror (L) and groom Alon Marcus (R) are seen as they break two glasses concluding their Reform Jewish wedding ceremony held in front of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 18, 2013, in protest of the Orthodox Rabbinate's monopoly on marriage licensing and the lack of civil marriages in Israel. (Flash90)
The legs of bride Lin Dror (L) and groom Alon Marcus (R) are seen as they break two glasses concluding their Reform Jewish wedding ceremony held in front of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 18, 2013, in protest of the Orthodox Rabbinate's monopoly on marriage licensing and the lack of civil marriages in Israel. (Flash90)

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana is weighing a proposal to allow Israelis to legally wed by means of civil marriage on Israeli territory, Channel 12 news reported Monday.

The proposal by New Hope MK Sharren Haskel would allow citizens to get married in foreign embassies and other diplomatic missions in Israel — as they are technically foreign soil.

Israel does not currently have a civil marriage option, though it recognizes such marriages performed abroad. Because only religiously administered marriages are allowed, Jews wishing to marry non-Jews or same-sex partners must travel to another country — often nearby Cyprus — to do so.

The system, which also forces Jews whose conversions are not recognized by the rabbinate to go abroad, has long been criticized as a form of discrimination that creates endless headaches and bureaucracy for those seeking to marry.

But Channel 12 reported that Kahana would only be willing to move forward with the proposal in exchange for removing the clause in the Law of Return that allows those who are descended from Jews, yet are not themselves Jews, according to Jewish law, to immigrate to Israel.

This amendment, passed by the Knesset in 1970, extends the right of return to “a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his/her religion.”

Illustrative: Immigrants from France arrive at Ben Gurion airport in central Israel on July 23, 2018. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

That move is expected to be strongly resisted by the coalition’s Yisrael Beytenu party, which long defended the amendment, as it allowed many Jews from the former Soviet Union — whose Judaism has been constantly questioned by the country’s religious establishment — to immigrate to Israel.

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana (Yitzhak Kelman)

Party leader and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Twitter on Monday that “there is no deal — it’s only lies.”

“Yisrael Beytenu will never sit in a government that agrees to such nonsense,” he tweeted, adding that “civil marriages are an important initiative that should be accepted without compromise.”

Intelligence Minister Eliezer Stern also said on Twitter that he would object to such a compromise.

“The ‘grandchild clause’ (as it is called in Hebrew) is of strategic importance to Diaspora Jewry and Israel. It was not and will not be negotiable in this government.”

Channel 12 said that due to the great complexity involved and the difficult concessions required by both parties, it is still unclear whether the move will mature into agreed-upon legislation.

Kahana has proposed plans for major reforms of state-controlled Jewish religious services. These include easing the process of conversion to Judaism and broadening the range of organizations qualified to give kosher certification, thereby weakening the ultra-Orthodox hegemony, including the Chief Rabbinate’s control over Jewish religious life cycle events in Israel.

His plans, in particular the changes to the conversion services, have drawn sharp criticism from ultra-Orthodox figures.

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