Laughing at the Law
The Joke of Israel’s Civil Partnership Law
Fewer than 1.5 couples register with the Civil Partnership registrar each month according to statistics the Ministry of Justice released to Hiddush. Hiddush President Rabbi Uri Regev: “The time has come for Yisrael Beiteinu to realize its mistake and demand the passage of a real Civil Marriage law.”
Foreign Minister and Chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu Avigdor Lieberman and his party member David Rotem Chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee at the Knesset session, 20.07.2011. Photograph by: Miriam Alster, Flash 90.jpg
In Israel, couples who wish to marry are required to do so through a religious authority. For Jewish citizens, it’s the rabbinate; Muslims and Christians must turn to their respective religious councils. However, what about Israeli citizens who don’t fall under any religious category? Many Israeli citizens are considered “without religion”, meaning that even if they consider themselves Jewish, they are not considered so by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate under Jewish law (halacha); this includes Reform and Conservative Jews by Choice . The most notable group of people “without religion” are hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, whose interests are often represented by the political party Yisrael Beiteinu.
Over a year and a half ago, a civil partnership law was passed in order to provide an alternative which allowed for every Israeli citizen to marry in Israel. Since its institution, only 37 couples have registered for a civil partnership. That’s an average of two couples per month, or 25 couples per year, according to figures provided to Hiddush by Attorney Yossi Hershler, a registrar of civil partnerships. In the two months after the law passed, only 15 pairs registered, and between the beginning of 2011 to April 2012, only 22 registered. Within these 16 months, the rate was 1.4 coupes per month and 17 couples per year. In the first two months after passage of the law were 15 pairs, and since the beginning of 2011 until April 2012, there were 22. In those 16 months, there were an average of 1.4 pairs per month and 17 pairs per year.
Hiddush President, Rabbi and attorney Uri Regev, said in response “It turns out that Hiddush’s forecasts were right: the Civil Partnership Law failed miserably. The law was introduced as a historic development, but in reality it was quite embarrassing”. Regev called to representatives of Yisrael Beitenu “to come to conclusions and demand the passage of a real civil marriage law”. According to Regev, “Only such a law can provide a real solution to the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who cannot marry in Orthodox marriages or who aren’t interested in doing so. The current situation divides the Jewish people and turns the few couples who registered for a civil partnership into outcasted anomalies.”
When the law was passed, FM Avigdor Lieberman said “The law’s approval is a...breakthrough in...religion and state. [It’s] one of the monumental moments in the history of the Knesset”.
During the (Ariel) Sharon-Shinui government which contained only civil parties and no ultra-Orthodox ones, a coalition committee headed by then Likud MK Roni Bar-On proposed to institute a parallel registration system for civil partnerships and for marriage. The idea was that the term “marriage” would be unique to the religious process. Every citizen who would choose to be registered in a civil partnership would bear symbolic witness that they did not want to marry according to halacha, and therefore allegedly would not need a religious divorce either. However, ultra-Orthodox rabbis view the civil partnership as another version of civil marriage. Therefore, they oppose making this process available for Jews. In addition, the Chief Rabbinate opposes this process in order not to break the monopoly that it has over Jewish marriage ceremonies.
In March of 2010, the Knesset approved a partial bill sponsored by MK David Rotem and the Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, which allowed the registration of couples as civil partners only cases where both partners were considered without religion. The bill does not allow registration of civil partnerships between couples where only one is considered without religion, and provides no option for someone considered Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate. It gives no new option for those considered Jews who do not want to marry through the Rabbinate, and still excludes many of the 300,000 immigrants who are considered without religion.
During the creation of the law, Hiddush warned that the law’s potential impact was only 200 couples per year. But in practice, only a few couples will actually register. The civil partnership registry, operating within the Ministry of Justice, started to function in the beginning of November 2010. At the time, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, said that “The law’s approval is a significant breakthrough in terms of religion and state. This is one of the monumental moments in the history of the Knesset”.
It turns out, however, the law’s failure proves it’s not.
Coverage of Hiddush's report in Walla (Hebrew)