A young couple were married opposite the Knesset building in Jerusalem on Monday in a ceremony that was remarkable not because of where it was, but rather because of who wasn’t there – an Orthodox rabbi.
The ceremony was presided over by a Reform rabbi and was held under the auspices of MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) as a gesture of defiance as well as concern over the fate of marriage rights under the new government.
“It is outrageous and unbelievable that this happy moment is deprived to hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are unable to marry without religious coercion,” Horowitz posted on his Facebook page alongside pictures from the event.
Under Israeli law, all Jewish marriages are performed through the rabbinate, a religious Orthodox institution that holds the bureaucratic monopoly on all major life cycle events — births, marriages, and deaths. In the past, ultra-Orthodox parties maintained a tight grip on the Religious Affairs Ministry and with it the rabbinate, and demanded that all marriages follow a strictly Orthodox format. Secular Israelis who chafed at this involvement, or those wishing to marry non-Jews, were forced to travel abroad and return as married couples in order for their wedded state to be recognized by the Interior Ministry.
“Every year there are those who must spend thousands of dollars on weddings abroad,” Horowitz wrote.
Earlier this month, as a coalition deal inched closer, Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, which championed civil rights in its election campaign, said that he would challenge the religious status quo and push for civil marriages and the easing of conversions.
However, with a coalition agreement signed last week and the ultra-Orthodox factions relegated to the opposition, control of the Religious Affairs Ministry passed to the national religious Jewish Home party in the shape of MK Eli Ben Dahan, a move some see as an anticlimactic after Lapid’s revolutionary rhetoric.
According to the Hiddush organization, which campaigns for religious freedom, the coalition agreement includes a clause that any legislative changes on matters of religion will require the consensus of “all members of the coalition”. That clause gives Jewish Home veto power over any legislation to advance religious freedom and pluralism, Hiddush warned.
“The lack of attention to religious freedom in the coalition agreements is a source of grave concern,” said Hiddush president Uri Regev. “It may indicate that Yesh Atid has not fully resolved its own internal differences of opinion on these subjects. The public’s great expectations from Yair Lapid’s party to advance religious freedom may fizzle out.”
Ultra-Orthodox parties are also unhappy with the turn of events, earlier this month warning that if conversion procedures become too lax under the new regime they will establish their own independent institutes for conversions.