Israel’s Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely stands with her husband-to-be Or Alon underneath a tallit during their wedding at the Ronit Farm in the Sharon plain, central Israel. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)

As the new Unity Government in Israel eases into the difficult role of really governing, issues of concern expressed by moderate Israelis and particularly by the Reform/Progressive Movement are emerging as important.

Some of these issues are very much on the to do list for the parties of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. Others are on the Ultra-Orthodox list of issues to strongly oppose at all costs.

These issues include civil marriage and divorce, core curriculum in Maths and Science for students in Haredi schools, the revamping of Kashrut laws and processes, recognition of Israeli Progressive conversions and the recognition of marriage between Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. These are just a few of the issues that have come to light since the election and installation of the new Unity Government. There are many other issues which will challenge this new government, and which will be extraordinarily difficult to address in any attempt to ensure Israel is a pluralistic state with equal opportunity and rites for all.

Currently in Israel, all marriage ceremonies must be conducted by religious authorities of state-recognised religious communities to which both members of the couple belong. Jewish Israelis can only marry through the Chief Rabbinate, while the religious authorities for Christians, Druze and Muslims regulate the rites of marriage and divorce for their respective communities.

Israel does not have a legal framework for civil marriage or divorce, same-sex unions, marriage between individual of different religions or if either of the partners register as “having no religion”.

So what do Israelis really want when it comes to marriage and divorce? It is obvious that while individuals may wish to choose a particular religious way for themselves, many wish there to be the opportunity for choice.

Two surveys were conducted some 4 years ago uncovered some interesting preferences, particularly as it is the first time Arab populations have had their views on such matters recorded. It is reasonable to predict that as the numbers of Progressive /Reform communities grow in Israel, so will the number of people looking for choice in marriage and divorce.

The findings from these surveys indicate that the majority of Jewish Israelis support allowing civil marriage and divorce in Israel. Some 72% of Jewish Israelis and 76% of Arab Israelis support the statement that “every resident (of Israel) has the right to get married in Israel with whomever he (she) chooses, in whatever way he (she) chooses, and according to his (her) beliefs.

There are further detailed breakdowns, but the above overall response is very telling and provides a challenge for any “change” government in Israel to address.

ARZA President, Helen Shardey

Helen Shardey OAM
ARZA Australia President
UPJ Vice President