Court: Inheritance Laws Apply to Intermarriages Performed Abroad

The Supreme Court ruled in a special session yesterday that intermarriage ceremonies performed abroad would be considered valid vis-a-vis inheritance laws, though they would not necessarily be subject to protection under other marriage laws.

Justices Aharon Barak, Asher Grunis and Elyakim Rubinstein overruled a district court decision that had deemed intermarriages legitimate for all purposes.

"We aren't dealing with the issue of personal status or trying to codify a new set of religious edicts on marriage. We are dealing merely with the issue of inheritance," the judges wrote in their ruling.

The court's ruling was based on the question of whether marriages between Jewish Israelis and former residents of Israel officiated abroad could be considered valid unions.

The case in question deals with a Jewish man born in Israel in 1928 who wed a Romanian immigrant who had worked as a housekeeper in his home in 1996, four years after his first wife died. The couple married in a civil ceremony in Romania, and returned to Israel where the man died before his wife received Israeli citizenship.

Since the man had not left a will upon his death, his son from his first marriage received his entire inheritance. His widow, however, maintained that because she had been married to the man at the time of his death, she was entitled to half of his assets.

The man's son argued that because the marriage had been officiated in a civil ceremony abroad, it was invalid according to both Jewish and Israeli law. Meanwhile, the widow argued that because Israeli courts recognize marriages considered valid in the country in which they officiated, these unions must be given the same consideration in Israel.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who was invited to express his stance on the matter, told the court in a statement, "it is appropriate not to rule on the validity of mixed marriages officiated abroad, an issue subject to serious public disagreement."

Barak wrote in his verdict that "the deceased spouse, according to inheritance statutes, was married in a formal ceremony, and there is indeed no need to define spouse as one who was married only in the religious court. Certainly, if a non-Jewish woman was married in a civil ceremony abroad to a Jewish Israeli, she is therefore his spouse in all regards including those relating to inheritance."

Barak added, "In civil ceremonies, two people are brought together in a shared fate. They create what is in reality a shared life together. In the family unit, which is established after a civil ceremony, there is every expectation of support and defense in the legal system and on issues of inheritance."

Nonetheless, the justices reject the district court's ruling that intermarriages officiated abroad are valid in every legal regard and grant a new "family status" to those involved.

Justice Rubinstein ruled that "intermarriages are a painful issue, which pulls at the heartstrings and has a strong influence on, and significance for, the Jewish people of today. Nonetheless, this should not infringe upon individual rights. Also, we can't ignore the present day reality in Israel, in which many are not eligible to have a religious wedding."

Rubinstein called on the Knesset to enact legislation on the issue of "spouses of Israelis who can't get married in Israel. It is up to the state to solve this issue, while still considering issues of the Jewish and democratic nature of the state, and the slippery slope on which we find ourselves."