A 13-year-old girl from the ultra-Orthodox town of Modi'in Ilit was married to a 16-year-old this week, after religious activists in the town told the girls' parents it would be penance for her romantic involvement with the boy.

About a month ago, the girl, an eighth-grader at the Netivot Da'at school in the West Bank town of Modi'in Ilit, told other girls in her class that she had become engaged to a 16-year-old boy from Rehovot, and that the two intended to get married soon. She also showed the girls clips of the engagement on her cellular phone.

Gossipers spread the story through the town, and an investigation launched by the welfare department discovered that the girl had become involved with boys over the past year, conduct that is prohibited in the ultra-Orthodox world. The parents, who are poor, approached a local rabbi, known to be involved in kabbalah, who told them that according to the kabbalistic work "The Zohar," the girl could atone by getting married. Six weeks ago, an engagement ceremony was held for the couple.

The wedding was set for the Purim holiday on Sunday. However, when the story became known, other rabbis of the town, led by the city's chief rabbi, Meir Kessler, began a campaign to call off the wedding. Kessler said that if the local rabbi and the parents had married off the young couple, he would call for that rabbi's excommunication. Kessler told Haaretz: I am utterly against the wedding. Marriages must not take place at that age. The marriage will not succeed."

The welfare department also began to monitor the girl closely. Municipal leaders also involved the police, who launched an investigation into suspicions of statutory rape and illegal marriage. The police also asked for a court injunction against the marriage, and warned the father not to go ahead with the marriage.

Over the past week, the parents they said they would call off the engagement. However, the welfare authorities said they had reason to suspect the wedding had in fact taken place in the presence of a rabbi, two witnesses, the parents of the bride and the parents of the groom. According to a senior official in the municipality, the individuals who had been pressuring the girl's family to marry her off told them this was the only way for the girl to supposedly atone for what they said was her sin, and the family was unable to withstand the pressure.

The Benjamin region police, headed by Chief Superintendent Yoram Akua, will now be launching an investigation against the parents and the rabbi who performed the ceremony. Their alleged offense carries a two-year jail term.

The law in Israel prohibits marriage under the age of 17, except by special court permission. According to Jewish law, marriages usually do not take place before the age of 18, except in the most radical sectors of the Bratslav Hasidim, where couples can marry at age 15. In the strict ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit in Jerusalem, the custom is to get engaged at age 16 and wait two years until marriage.

A spokesman for the Modi'in Ilit local council said: "Due to the social workers' strike, the response of the welfare department is unavailable."

The girl's mother declined to comment, as did the rabbi who urged the family to marry off the girl.