Up to a third of Israeli couples who got married last year may have done so outside the purview of official state religious bodies, according to a report published Tuesday to coincide with national Family Day.
The figures from the New Family organization, which advocates equal family rights for all, showed that between at least 8,000 to 20,000 couples were joined in matrimony outside of state institutions, and the number may be as high as 29,000.
Israel does not have civil marriage, meaning couples must either wed through the state’s religious authorities or get married abroad. For Jews wishing to get married in Israel, they must go through the Chief Rabbinate, which is administered under stringent ultra-Orthodox rules.
According to figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics, around 50,000 Israeli couples are married every year through the state’s religious authorities — Jewish, Muslim and Christian.
In 2016, the latest year the CBS published data, 52,000 such marriages were held of which about 38,000 were Jewish marriages conducted through the Chief Rabbinate.
However, New Family surmised that in 2018 as many as 29,000 additional weddings or other commitment ceremonies may have been conducted outside the state’s religious authorities: Around 8,000 couples were married in a civil ceremony abroad; 7,000 held a religious ceremony not recognized by the Rabbinate; 5,000 others held non-religious ceremonies in Israel; 5,000 obtained a domestic union certificate; around 400 couple married in sects not recognized by the state and over 3,000 involved minors married in illegal ceremonies.
The organization noted that the state does not carry data on weddings conducted outside recognized institutions, and that its report was based on cross-referenced information from various state sources. Though it was regarded as an assessment, New Family founder Irit Rosenblum said the organization had worked for a year on the report and “we did our best to be as accurate as possible.”
The data was obtained by analyzing figures published by the CBS, the national social security agency, the Foreign Ministry, courts, the Interior Ministry and the Immigration Authority.
Rosenblum told The Times of Israel that there is likely overlap between some of the groups but said that even so, the figures indicated that many thousands of Israelis couples are using alternative methods for union.
The report claimed that around 400,000 Israelis, or around 4 percent of the population, are unable to be married through traditional institutions due to religious restrictions, citizenship issues and sexual identity. Among them are 100,000, whose spouse is of a different religion, and 80,000 who are the same sex as their partner.
“Hundreds of thousands of spouses who do not conform to the definition of the family according to the state suffer from discrimination and the violation of their basic rights: from the lack of recognition of personal marriage ceremonies adapted to the couple’s worldview, to registering the parents in the children’s ID card, and ending with preventing fertility assistance,” Rosenblum said in a statement accompanying the report.