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Israeli civil marriage

אירנה רוזנברג
אירנה רוזנברג

Jacob Newberry

A really excellent firm. They knew exactly how to handle my situation effectively and efficiently, and we got the result I needed without much fuss. Adi Berger was a wonderful advocate for me and I am deeply grateful for her help!

Ilan and Yael got married in their back yard, in the kibbutz where they lived. They had a ceremony without any religious elements, without the presence of a rabbi or observance of the rules required by the Chief Rabbinate when it comes to registering the marriage of a Jewish couple. After the wedding, the two went to the Interior Ministry to register as a married couple, but were shocked to find that the Interior Ministry official refused to accept their marriage, since they were not married in a religious ceremony according to Jewish law.

The couple, together with another couple of their friends from the kibbutz who had encountered a similar situation, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court and asked that the Interior Ministry be required to register them as married. But even a court of law could not offer them salvation. The Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction Law emphatically states that there is no institution of civil marriage in Israel – Jews’ marriages and divorces are to be performed according to Torah law, and that jurisdiction in these matters is granted solely to the rabbinical court.

More than half a century has passed since that ruling that decided the fate of those without religious affiliation, or Jews who opposed the institution of the rabbinate. But in the meantime, a number of methods have developed for registering marriages with the Interior Ministry without performing a religious ceremony. In this article we will describe the various methods for obtaining the desired recognition as a married couple, recognition that entails great significance for the couple and their children.

נישואין אזרחיים

Marriage and divorce in Israel

Conduct on this issue has taken shape over time, mainly based on the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction Law which grants sole authority to the Jewish, Christian and Muslim courts to hear cases regarding marriages and divorces for representatives of the respective religions, as well as judicial rulings, of which the most famous is the one described at the beginning of this article.

About two decades ago there was an attempt to permit at least divorces for those who married in civil weddings, and the 2003 “Anonymous” ruling determined that this authority is also given to the rabbinical courts. The innovation was that for Jews, even those who were not married through the rabbinate are obligated to divorce in the rabbinical courts.

The latest attempt to make a change in this field was in 2021, when several bills were proposed that were intended to permit civil marriages in various versions.

Israeli civil marriage

As noted, over the years creative solutions have popped up to enable registration of couples who did not marry according to Jewish law, via proceedings generally conducted by legal offices that specialize in the field. Our office, which maintains a department dedicated to these marriages, handles hundreds of queries every year.

The primary type of proceeding is that couples get married in other countries, in which case all they have to present is a public marriage license proving that they were married in that country, regardless of whether the ceremony was religious or civil. While in Israel the issuance of a marriage license requires going through the rabbinate, in other countries such a license can be issued for any applicant, subject to the conditions described below.

How can a couple get married and obtain a recognized certification?

Yes, as you can imagine, over the years a multi-pronged industry has arisen around registration of marriages that are not done through the rabbinate. The most common countries for Israelis seeking civil marriages are Cyprus and the Czech Republic, which enable such marriages for Israeli citizens very easily. However, these countries require the presence of both partners when the marriage is registered. This can cause a problem for couples in which one partner cannot leave Israel due to an exit delay order or is a foreign worker who cannot obtain an inter-visa, or for other reasons.

For such instances, our office has identified destinations which do not require the presence of both partners, and one of them does not even need to be present at all. Instead, the legal proceedings are conducted according to the rules in that country (with the attorney’s guidance), and afterwards the couple receives a certificate that is recognized by the Interior Ministry.

What is a Spousal Covenant?

In 2010, a law was passed that was intended to grant various options to those without religious affiliation to register as married in Israel. The “Spousal Covenant Law for those without Religious Affiliation” stated that a man and a woman who are not members of any of the religious communities recognized in Israel (Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze) can register in the Spousal Registrar of the Ministry of Justice and will be recognized as a married couple, with a few minor exceptions such as a restriction on adoption and non-recognition of the marriage for the the purposes of obtaining status for citizenship and entrance to Israel.

The law restricted the option only to cases in which both partners are not affiliated religiously, and does not apply when one partner is non-affiliated and the other is a member of a religion recognized in Israel. Given that the religiously non-affiliated in Israel number only a few hundred thousand, this option for “alternative civil marriage” is extremely restricted.

Data published by the Justice Ministry over the years show that the Registrar receives some ten applications a year to register in the framework of the Spousal Covenant Law, compared to tens of thousands seeking to get married abroad.

Common-law couples

Another option that has developed over the years, given the Interior Ministry’s opposition to registering couples who did not marry under Jewish law, is the status of a common-law couple. This is a couple who live together and run a joint household, but are not registered anywhere as married, neither in Israel nor abroad.

These couples are entitled to many of the rights granted to married couples. A common-law partner inherits the property of his or her partner who dies, even without a will, and they have rights to obtain legal Israeli status for foreign partners (though not their children).

Today there are hundreds of thousands of couples living in Israel with this status, and the phenomenon is increasing every year due to increased public opposition to marriage according to the rules of the rabbinate. To be a common-law couple recognized by the state, the couple must undergo a legal proceeding which includes filing an application with the Interior Ministry and producing evidence of their joint life.

If you are at a crossroads in registering your spousal partnership, contact our offices in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to get legal information and assistance.

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