• May 24, 2024

Fast-moving Israelis rush to Utah for legal marriage 2023

Israel’s Supreme Court denied the state’s case against registering online civil weddings performed in Utah, United States, in Israel. The verdict on March 7 authorized civil weddings through Zoom.

In Israel, religious leaders must officiate marriages. The Chief Rabbinate is responsible for performing and recording all Jewish marriages in Israel, whereas Muslim religious authorities are responsible for Muslim marriages and Christian religious authorities are responsible for Christian marriages. In Israel, interfaith marriages are prohibited. Prior to March 8, these couples and others interested in civil marriage were required to marry overseas.

Almost two years ago, during the epidemic, it all began. A couple from Israel took advantage of the time between COVID-19 lockdowns to organize a short, family-only wedding ceremony. The couple desired a civil ceremony to reflect their nonreligious ideas and values.

Simple registration and minimal cost

Such rituals are not recognized by Israeli legislation. They were certain they would need to fly overseas and remarry in order to register as a married couple in Israel. At that time, international travel was tough. The pair then discovered an unexpected, efficient, and inexpensive alternative: marriage by Zoom in Utah, United States. The new technology, spawned by the global pandemic quarantines, provided a lifeline to the couple, who were both fully eligible Jews but did not want the Rabbinate to be involved in their lives.

“We registered online,” the spouse revealed under the condition of anonymity. “The ceremony itself was thrilling. Our parents were both on Zoom at home, we were accompanied by two friends, and a Utah municipal clerk performed the ceremony. We were given a marriage license.” The price was just $250.

The Ministry of Interior, believing the Zoom ceremonies were unlawful, refused to register their marriage. The interior minister at the time was Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, which opposes civil marriage in general in order to protect the monopoly of rabbinical institutions over marriage, divorce, and other actions.

Our duo was not the only ones that were denied entry. Others who took advantage of the new option found themselves in the same situation, with the state maintaining that the ceremony actually took place in Israel and hence was not protected by Supreme Court judgments enabling the registration of couples who marry abroad.

Hiddush, a non-profit organization devoted to the promotion of religious liberty, took up the cause of the couple and seven others, including two women and a mixed-religion couple (in which one of the partners is not officially recognized as Jewish). The Court of Administrative Affairs granted Hiddush’s petition against the ministry’s decision. The court concluded that it was unlawful for the state to refuse to recognize Zoom marriages.

But, before the couples could register, the state challenged the verdict and Hiddush filed a case with the High Court of Justice last year. The court granted the petition, mandating that the state register internet marriages. The court determined that the location of the wedding ceremony was a complex subject not yet handled by statute or case law. In spite of this, it was observed that the ceremonies were conducted in line with Utah state law by an official body that granted them legitimate marriage certificates.

Rabbi Uri Regev, director of Hiddush, praised the verdict for validating innovative technologies. He stated that the judgment itself was consistent with past rulings regarding civil marriage.

“During the COVID-19 outbreak, Israelis learned about the marriage in Utah by word of mouth. Thousands of Israelis who are unable to register as married in Israel will be allowed to marry through a new channel that is the focus of this drama. Due to the demands of religious political groups, the State of Israel is the only Western democracy to deny its people the right to marry freely.”

80 percent of Israeli secularists favor civil marriage

Regev remarked that polls performed by his organization suggest that around 80% of Israeli Jews who identify as secular prefer civil ceremonies over rabbinical ones.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis, primarily immigrants from the former Soviet Union, whose Jewish lineage is not recognized by rabbinical authorities, have a remedy in the nonreligious alternative. Its popularity explains the religious parties’ and rabbinical authorities’ persistent efforts over the years to invalidate it.

If the present right-wing, religious administration is successful in pushing through its judicial makeover meant to undermine the country’s highest court, they may have their way after all.

Under the proposed laws, a majority of the Knesset might overturn decisions of the High Court, so rejecting the option of a civilian wedding through Zoom or travel overseas. That appears plausible based on the answer of Shas Knesset member Moshe Arbel. In a statement, Arbel characterized the verdict as “interference” in political matters and argued that it demonstrated the need for the proposed judicial reform that would restrict the court’s jurisdiction.

“The recognition… of civil marriages performed on the Zoom app is a sad joke at the expense of all citizens of Israel — religious, traditional, and secular alike,” said Arbel. “It expresses more than anything a desire to promote the values of the ‘State of All its Citizens’ and erase the Jewish identity of the state.”

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