- The Media Line - https://themedialine.org -

Domestic Partnerships in Israel Expanding

More couples choose not to marry

Tal Ekroni, 52, and his wife Nili, 51, are newlyweds, just a week and a half into their new life together. But at their wedding, the second for both of them, there was no rabbi, no wedding canopy, and no traditional marriage contract.
The wedding was at the office of New Family, an Israeli organization that promotes equal family rights and offers a common-law partnership. New Family founder Irit Rosenblum conducted the ceremony. Both Tal and Nili had their first wedding ceremonies through the Jerusalem rabbinate, called the rabbanut in Hebrew.

“We didn’t like the procedure we went through the first time,” Ekroni told The Media Line. “We are secular and they are trying to force religion down our throat. Irit did the ceremony, and it was really nice. We had vows and exchanged rings.”
After the ceremony, they also received a Domestic Union Card, a document that attests to their common-law partnership.

With the card, says Rosenbloom, they get all of the benefits of being a married couple such as proving eligibility for a mortgage or fertility treatments as a couple and eligibility for residency status.

“This is the closest thing to civil marriage,” Rosenblum told The Media Line. “We are living in a democracy, an equal world and a liberal world. In all marriage systems, the state has the power to define your relationship. We say this power should not belong to the state, but to you. You should control your own life.”

In Israel, in a compromise that goes back to the early days of the state, the Orthodox rabbinic establishment, called the rabbanut, has control over all issues of personal status – marriage, divorce, and burial. That means that only someone who can prove their status as Jewish, meaning his mother was Jewish, or he had a rabbinically-approved Orthodox conversion, is eligible to marry, and all marriages are religious ceremonies. There are no civil marriages. Divorces, as well, are only done in rabbinical courts, which activists say favor the husbands. As the man must grant the woman a divorce, there are numerous cases of men who blackmail their wives, or flat-out refuse to grant the divorce.

“The rabbinate is one of the least trusted and respected public institutions in Israel,” Rabbi Uri Regev, the President and CEO of Hiddush, an organization that works for religious equality in Israel. “It is not just the administrative and bureaucratic issues, but the horror that people associate with a divorce process in the rabbinic courts.”

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics recently found that the number of unmarried Jewish couples in Israel totaled 84,000 in 2014, an increase of 29 percent from two years earlier. Many of them are choosing the domestic partnership arrangements offered by New Family. Rosenblum says more than 25,000 couples have signed the affidavit and received their card.

The majority of Israeli Jewish couples who marry still do so through the rabbanut. Some rabbis in Israel say that they want to reform the institution, rather than pushing for civil marriage.

Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of ITIM, an organization that helps couples solve problems in the rabbanut, says he is concerned the Domestic Partnership Card may cause problems for children of those unions, who will find it difficult to prove their Jewishness when they want to get married.

Rabbi Farber says the rabbanut has spent millions of dollars for a computer program that lists the eligibility for marriage status of every Israeli citizen. His organization helps those who cannot prove their eligibility, including many Russian immigrants who may not have documents that prove their Jewishness.

He too has sharp criticism of the institution.

“The rabbanut has done a disservice to the Jewish character of the State of Israel,” he told The Media Line. “Judaism is much richer than the view that the religious establishment provides.”

He too supports civil marriage, as well as an array of religious choices. He says it is time that the rabbanut’s monopoly over marriage is broken.