"Israel received the grade of "0" [the worst grade possible] due to severe restrictions that limit the options for legal marriage and discriminate against certain populations. These severe restrictions on freedom of marriage put Israel alongside countries that are among the worst offenders of violating marriage rights."
The Hiddush Worldwide Freedom of Marriage Project report was released yesterday. Three country grades are possible, with 2 (the US, Canada, Western Europe, etc.) as the best and 0 [Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel) as the worst. Israel got a zero:
…Freedom of Marriage in Israel
Israel received the grade of "0" [the worst grade possible] due to severe restrictions that limit the options for legal marriage and discriminate against certain populations. These severe restrictions on freedom of marriage put Israel alongside countries that are among the worst offenders of violating marriage rights.
Israeli law permits only religious marriages held by religious testimony, and does not allow civil marriages. Among the Jewish population, the Chief Rabbinate, which operates according to Orthodox Jewish standards, has a monopoly over marriage. Only those who are recognized as Jews according to Orthodox Jewish law can get married in Israel.This status quo comes in spite of data from Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), which shows that only 19% of the Jewish population defines themselves as Orthodox and 81% are defined as secular or "traditional." Members of other religions can only marry spouses of the same religion and only by their own recognized religious authority.
The result is that no interfaith or non-religious marriages are allowed. More than 300,000 citizens (4% of the country's population) are defined as "Without Religion". These are mainly immigrants from the former USSR and their descendants whose natural growth is approaching 5,000 newborns per year. The background of this problem stems from the Law of Return which allows up to second generation descendants of Jews and their spouses to immigrate to Israel and receive citizenship, but prevents them from getting married.This also applies to individuals whose fathers or grandfathers are Jewish but their mother or grandmother is not. They are excluded due to Orthodox Jewish law which stipulates that Judaism is transmitted through the mother. Citizens that are categorized as "Without Religion" are usually descendants of a Jewish father or grandfather and a non-Jewish mother or grandmother.
There are also individuals who are Jewish according to Orthodox law, but who lose their marriage rights in certain circumstances. Those defined by the rabbinical authorities as illegitimate (born to a women who conceived a child with a man who is not her husband) are considered ineligible for marriage. Divorced women are not allowed to marry men who carry any of the traditional "Cohen" family names (denoting families who are considered to be the direct descendants of the ancient Israelite priests and who, by law, are forbidden from marrying divorcees and converts).
The State of Israel only recognizes Jewish marriages that are officiated by recognized Orthodox rabbis. Marriages conducted by rabbis of any other Jewish affiliation (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal) are not recognized. The Law of Return recognizes converts who converted in a non-Orthodox ceremony. They are allowed to receive Israeli citizenship, but the Chief Rabbinate does not recognize them as Jews and does not consider them eligible for Jewish marriage. This creates a situation in which converts who joined Judaism through progressive movements and in some cases, Orthodox converts who converted by moderate Orthodox rabbis, cannot get married in Israel.
The Orthodox monopoly similarly denies many couples the right to marriage according to their belief. Secular, non-Orthodox and moderate Orthodox Jews fall into this category. This is partly due to the non-egalitarian characteristics of the Orthodox ceremony. Many of these couples choose to get married abroad, and others do not get married at all.
Due to Israeli Supreme Court rulings from the 1960s, the Ministry of Interior registers and accepts civil marriages held abroad. These marriages are usually held in nearby Cyprus, Italy, and the former USSR. It should be emphasized that there are different registration parameters. The question of the validity of civil marriages that were held abroad has yet to be decided in Israel, and there are many contradicting opinions and rulings on this matter.
According to Israel's CBS data, in 2010, 9,262 couples reported to the Ministry of the Interior that they married abroad. This compares to the 47,855 couples that were married in Israel in the same year. This means that 16% of the marriages of Israelis were held abroad. It is relevant to note that Jewish couples that have chosen to wed in civil marriages abroad are subject to the authority of the rabbinical religious courts if they want to get divorced. The Orthodox religious law that guides these courts often discriminates against women. One of the most significant areas of discrimination is the husband's ability to refuse to grant his wife a divorce. This greatly disadvantages the wife and potentially allows the husband to blackmail her into remaining married to him.
Hiddush annualy publishes the Religion and State Index, a public opinion survey conducted through the Rafi Smith Research Institute to measure the public's stance on issues of religion and state in Israel. Since the first study was conducted four years ago, all of the results have indicated that 60% of Israelis want the government to recognize a wider variety of marriage options, including civil marriage and ceremonies conducted by non-Orthodox rabbis. Additional surveys and research projects that have been conducted by different organizations similarly note that there is a large amount of public support for civil marriage in Israel. This clear call for change has not yet been answered in the political arena. Numerous law proposals for civil marriage have failed one after the other in the Knesset, mainly due to the objection of ultra-Orthodox parties who, until recently, where consistent members of the government coalition.
The current government coalition does not include any of the ultra-Orthodox political parties, which creates a historic opportunity to introduce civil marriage in Israel, but there is doubt that the Religious-Zionist "Jewish Home" party, which sits in the coalition, will allow this type of legislation. Another potential possibility is to pass legislation for a covenantal couplehood reigstration instead of civil marriage. This option is similar to civil unions; the couple receives most of the same rights to that are received in marriage and resembles in some aspects a "common-law marriage." Different countries around the world offer options to register couples that are interested in formalizing their relationship without marriage, as well as choices for same-sex couples. In Israel, it is proposed that the word "marriage" will be used only for a religious ceremony. If a couple is interested in civilly registering their relationship, they will have to make do with the term "Couple Registration." The likelihood that this proposal will succeed in Israel is still unclear. It has met opposition also from religious freedom and pluralistic groups who believe this proposal creates a second class of citizens who don't want to get married through the Orthodox establishment.