The only official marriage ceremonies that can be conducted in Israel and subsequently lead to the registration of the couple as married in the population registry are religious ceremonies according to the religion of the couple to be married. However, there are other options for men and women that do not want to get married in this manner or are not entitled to do so.
An Israeli couple (or a couple consisting of an Israeli and a foreigner) can get married abroad in a civil ceremony and then register as married in Israel. Alternatively, couples can receive the status of common law partners and conduct an alternative ceremony to confirm their relationship.
Marriage in the Rabbinate
Couples that want to marry officially in Israel have no other choice but to get married through the religious authorities – Jews through the Rabbinate, Muslims through a Shari’a court and Christians in their respective churches.
Jewish weddings are conducted by a rabbi authorized by the Rabbinate and require the signing of a Ktubah (Jewish marriage contract), a ring for the bride from the groom and a ceremony under the Huppah.
Immediately after the wedding, the signed Ktubah is returned to the Rabbinate and a marriage certificate is issued. With this marriage certificate the couple can register in their local office of the Interior Ministry.
In the Ktubah, the groom accepts a financial obligation towards the bride in case of divorce. Contrary to common belief, this obligation, which has been verified with his signature, binds him legally, and the bride has the right to claim the sum specified in the Ktubah in a rabbinical court. It is a contractual obligation in every respect and can be claimed unless the bride has explicitly waived this right in an agreement.
While there are definite advantages to getting married with the Rabbinate in Israel – the marriage will be recognized without problems or delay, and the wedding will conform to Jewish traditions as favored and expected by many – the disadvantages are evident: Firstly, a religious marriage might not be fitting for secular Israelis, the majority of the population. To many, the religious traditions are not meaningful and are forced upon them against their will. Perhaps more significantly, the religious ceremony lacks equality. Only the man signs the Ktubah, and the woman has no vocal part in the ceremony. The witnesses to the ceremony are men and so is the conducting rabbi. Furthermore, a religious union can mean real trouble for women that want to divorce against their husbands’ wishes.
In most nations the option exists to register marriage by means of a civil ceremony, without a religious service. Most countries enable religious authorities to perform religious weddings, but civil marriages are very common and sometimes required in addition to the religious ceremony.
In order to get married, a couple must fulfill the conditions posed by the state. These conditions differ from country to country and may include proof of bachelorhood, age, residency (most countries do not allow citizens of other states to get married in their territory unless their partner is a citizen of said country) and even medical exams.
The law of the State of Israel, however, allows only religious marriages, which in turn means that only partners of the same religion can get married to each other.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court decided in the early 60ies that the Interior Ministry must register anyone as married who is Israeli and got married abroad in a civil marriage.
In the past few years, more and more couples have taken advantage of this option and gotten married abroad. Amongst these couples are those that are forbidden to marry according to Jewish law (Cohens and divorcees or convertees, ‘bastards’), New Immigrants whose status as Jews is questioned by the Rabbinate, men and women of different religions, and those that do not want to marry religiously for ideological reasons.
In recent times, the number of European countries that Israelis can get married in has decreased. Countries like Italy and France require couples getting married on their territory to provide a document prooving that there are no obstacles or legal objections against their marriage in Israel. Since Israel does not issue such a document, Israelis cannot get married in these countries.
Where is Civil Marriage possible?
Cyprus – Marriage is possible without complicated procedures even if both partners are not citizens and requires relatively low costs.
CIS (former Soviet Union) – Mainly New Immigrants that still have multiple citizenships get married here.
Western Europe and USA – Israelis can get married to a partner that is a citizen of these countries. However, two Israelis cannot get married in places like Italy, Czech and France, as a document called ‘nulla osta’ attesting they are free to marry is required. Foreigners can get married in Cyprus, Slovenia and Croatia.
South Africa, Australia, New Zealand – Marriage possible without complicated procedures even if both partners are not citizens, but requires high travel costs.
East Asia – Israelis can get married to partners that are citizens of the countries in the region.
Civilly married couples in Israel
Contrary to common concerns, the status of children is not jeopardized by the fact that their parents got married in a non-Jewish, civil marriage. The children are neither ‘bastards’ according to Jewish law nor is their status as Jews being contested.
There are disadvantages connected to civil marriage, however: In addition to the high financial costs required for travel, marriage licenses and the issuing and translation of documents, a Jewish couple that got married abroad still has to deal with the Rabbinate if it wants to divorce. As the religious authorities are the only bodies entitled to divorce couples of their respective faiths, they will have to arrange for the divorce even if the marriage was not performed under their auspices.
But naturally, the great advantage of civil marriage is that it allows couples that cannot marry religiously or do not want to do so to be married.
Alternative weddings – New Family’s Couples’ Ceremony
New Family is offering an alternative to couples that do not want to get married with the Rabbinate and prefer not to travel abroad for marriage. New Family’s couples’ ceremonies celebrate the union between two partners in a ceremony based on equal rights, respects and mutual responsibility. This ceremony is an option for every kind of couple that wants to have a liberal and creative wedding.
During the ceremony, which is conducted by one of our lawyers, the couple publicly declares their love and their resolve to live together. In addition to that, the partners sign a special legal document written up by New Family, the declaration of couplehood. This document attests to their commitment and specifies the emotional pledges they make to each other.
In addition to the couple declaration, couples may sign a shared life agreement written up by one of New Family’s lawyers that specifies their agreements on topics such as mutual assets, children, financial obligations etc. This contract will be authorized by a family court and thus receive the validity of a binding legal ruling.