Making Intermarriage Legal in Israel

Israeli leaders like Binyamin Netanyahu sometimes excoriate intermarriage as a grave threat to the Jewish people, which is easy to do in a country with a majority Jewish population. But Israel also has another leg up on preventing intermarriage: a Jew cannot legally marry a non-Jew in Israel.

According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, a number of mixed and non-Jewish couples are suing the state to compensate them for their “expense and anguish” because they have to travel out of the country to get married. Under Israeli law, only a man and woman of the same religion can marry each other, and they can only get married by an official religious authority. In Israel, the official Jewish religious authority is Orthodox. Unlike in the U.S., there is no such thing as civil marriage by someone other than a rabbi, priest or imam.

The article highlights the case of Dimitri and Inessa Yakubovich. Both of Inessa’s parents are Jewish but Dimitri’s mother is not, which makes him a non-Jew according to Israeli law. Despite both serving in the Israel Defense Forces, they could not get married in Israel, so they traveled to Bulgaria for a small wedding.

The Knesset is currently considering a bill that would allow for civil marriage of two people without religious classification, but the bill does nothing to address the problem faced by the Yakuboviches. According to an article in the Jewish Week, Rabbi Gilad Kirav, associate director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, “said the bill would only help the approximately 70 Israeli couples without religious classification who go abroad every year to get married. Meanwhile, he said, thousands of others are forced to go to Cyprus to get married.”

It is problematic from an American point of view when two people who put their lives on the line for Israel, and who would both be considered Jewish by a significant portion of American Jews, cannot legally marry in Israel.

In Israel the size of the Jewish population presumably will always guarantee that intermarriage remains infrequent, so prohibiting a Jew from marrying a non-Jew hardly seems necessary.

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