And he says Orthodox Jews should support it:
Posted by Rabbi Seth (Shaul) Farber, JPost.com
After years of working within the rabbinate, I'm convinced that Orthodox Jews should support some form civil marriage in Israel. In fact, Orthodox Jews should probably be at the lead of such an initiative.
In many ways, the adoption of British Mandatory law within Israeli legal culture has denigrated Judaism in the eyes of the general public. In Israel, Jews can only be married with the approval of the religious leader of their religious group, which is identified with the chief rabbinate. Since the majority of Israelis are not Orthodox, the process of marriage can be humiliating and in some cases impossible, as Orthodoxy limits legal unions. Though the majority of Israelis still marry through the rabbinate, more and more couples are choosing not to marry at all, or to marry in civil ceremonies abroad.
But the real issue is the emigration of 350,000 individuals from the former Soviet Union who do not meet the rabbinate's criterion for marriage eligibility because they are not Jewish according to the Orthodox halacha [Jewish law]. Their inability to marry has created a moral and legal problem in Israel. Avigdor Leiberman is capitalizing on their suffering and has made the adoption of civil marriage statue a precondition to his joining a coalition in the new Israeli government.
There are three basic arguments against any civil marriage in Israel. The first states that allowing civil marriage will increase Israeli assimilation as there will no longer be a streamlined manner of attesting to Jewishness. A second argument suggests that civil marriage will create more mamzerim in Israel (i.e., those who cannot marry in traditional ceremonies because they are Jewish children born of an illicit sexual relationship), because individuals will choose to divorce outside the rabbinate. Finally, many argue that streamlined marriage through the rabbinate enhances the Jewish character of the State.
In today's society, none of these arguments really holds up. People aren't assimilating any less because of Jewish marriage. In fact, the disaffection that the rabbinate has created is gradually leading more and more people away from adopting traditional Jewish lifestyles. Civil marriage will not necessarily create more problems of mamzeirut. In fact, in many respects civil marriage will help resolve many cases of mamzeirut as there are halachic opinions that argue that children born from women who were married she-lo kedat moshe V'yisrael [according to the religion of Moses and Israel] - are not illegitimate. Finally, given where the Jewish character of the state of Israel is today, I'm not convinced that the particular character of Judaism in Israel is something worth preserving.
But even if one disagrees with my analysis, I think there are good reasons to adopt some form of civil marriage now. First of all, it is an absurdity that thousands of citizens (who don't meet the halachic criteria of Jewishness) cannot marry in Israel. I don't think of myself as being permissive in family law, but rather as being particularly strict in kavod habriyot. Individuals who don't meet the rabbinate's bar should be given basic rights to marry, in a civil court, just as they can - at present- be divorced in a civil court. I certainly don't want to advocate inter-marriage, but if two non-Jews who are citizens of Israel want to be married, they should be able to.
Moreover, I think allowing for an option of civil union will enhance the prestige of the rabbinate, and hopefully, will encourage it to provide more user-friendly services.
To be sure, many rabbinates have undergone radical transformations in the last few years, in order to respond to the less traditional character of the population. But a more user-friendly approach would radically change the attitude of the rank and file to the religious establishment.
I think there is a simple model that could be adopted as a beginning stage, which would not prove particularly controversial. In Israel today, non-Jewish couples, upon demonstrating their lack of Jewish ethnicity, go to family courts for divorce. I believe strongly that a similar model ought be initiated by the Orthodox for marriage of two non-Jews. This would pare down the problems of the rabbinic monopoly considerably, and provide an honorable solution to the plight of many.
At present, the notion of civil unions is simply being used for political ends. But there are real issues at stake, and when people's basic rights hang in the balance, one cannot afford to be silent.