The Off-Shore Marriage Industry

Aphrodite Rock in Cyprus

I’ve written before in this space about the difficulties faced by Israeli interfaith couples looking to get married. For quite a few of these couples, the solution to their problem is only a 55-minute flight from Tel Aviv: Cyprus.

According to this Moment magazine article by Karin Tanabe, in Lanarca, one of the wedding meccas, 40% of the marriages involve Israelis marrying Israelis. Cyprus is in such demand for its secular approach to marriage that towns like Lanarca and Aradippou compete for wedding tourists. Aradippou runs a limousine service from the airport to town hall; Lanarca is building a brand-new wedding center next to its town hall.

Because of the mixed secular-religious nature of Israeli law, once married couples return from Cyprus, they are recognized as married by the state but not by the religious establishment. So these couples will enjoy official recognition of their marriages for tax and benefits purposes, but will still face difficulties if they want to divorce or be buried together, both of which matters are controlled by the Orthodox establishment.

Over the last few years, there have been a few changes for the better for non-traditional couples in Israel. Tel Aviv recently began recognizing homosexual couples who have authorized cards from the Israeli family rights organization New Family, following the lead of several smaller cities, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The largest group that has been affected by Israel’s restrictive marriage laws are Russian Jews, many of whom can’t prove that their mothers are Jewish. Interestingly, this article in the Jerusalem Post says that a recent survey shows that most Jews from the Former Soviet Union are unbothered by intermarriage. Further, they don’t consider Zionism a significant part of their Jewish identity. One can’t help but wonder if these feelings are a response to the Israeli religious establishment’s rejection of Russian claims of Jewish identity? Is it possible that the Orthodox establishments’ strict approach to marriage and Jewish identity is diluting–rather than strengthening–some Israelis’ sense of Jewish identity?

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