Close to 20,000 Israelis tie the knot overseas every year, mainly to avoid the tortuous process of a religious marriage at home.

Tali Haberfeld-Adar, 42, married David, 48, two months ago at a speedy ceremony in Cyprus. For both, it was a second marriage. Having already suffered the rabbinate, they chose another way.

Haberfeld-Adar said her first marriage via the rabbinate "dealt mainly with paperwork, forms and fees." A secular young woman who lived with her boyfriend for three years before the wedding, she found the instruction session for brides especially ridiculous.

"We have nothing against religion," Haberfeld-Adar said yesterday. "We wanted a swift, short wedding with no bureaucracy or paperwork. We wanted an experience, not a complicated procedure."

Her husband says the marriage ceremony in Cyprus is simple and fast, unlike the long procedure at the rabbinate. "I've been to the rabbinate once and that was enough for me," he said.

Figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics yesterday show that 47,855 Israeli couples marry via Orthodox rabbinical courts.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, says that about 40 percent of the couples marrying abroad are Jews marrying Jews who could have married at the rabbinate if they wanted to.

Another 30 percent are couples where at least one spouse has no religious classification and cannot marry in Israel. The rest are Israelis marrying a foreign national.

"Since many of them can marry in Israel, their going abroad demonstrates their turning away from the rabbinical establishment," Kariv said.

"It reflects the complete absurdity and completely warped family laws in Israel. This is the only democratic country that imposes religious restrictions on its citizens' marriages. Apart from the desire to perpetuate the Orthodox religious monopoly, there's no real reason for it."

The figures show that even without legislation, the Orthodox monopoly on marriage will ultimately collapse, he says.

Liora and Amit Vered-Ezrachi of Tzur Hadassah married in 2006 in a Reform ceremony in Israel and a civil ceremony in Cyprus. Neither wanted an Orthodox wedding, but one that would reflect their open, liberal, egalitarian and Jewish partnership, Liora said yesterday.

But since Reform weddings are not recognized in Israel and they wanted the state to recognize their marriage, they held a civil ceremony in Cyprus.

"For us, the wedding itself was an insignificant bureaucratic matter," Liora said. "If we could have had a civil wedding in Israel we would have done that."

Attorney Irit Rosenblum, founder and director of the New Family Organization, fights against the Orthodox religious monopoly on marriage. Since 2008 Rosenblum has "wed" more than 10,000 couples who declare they are common-law partners. They receive New Family partnership certificates.

"Today there are more than 20 laws equalizing common-law partners' status to married ones, so there's no reason to marry either via the rabbinate or in Cyprus," said Rosenblum.

She warns that a woman who marries in Cyprus is not entitled to alimony unless she and her husband sign a financial agreement or some other "joint life" contract.

"The figures show the secular community's disgust with the rabbinate," she said. "It's a disgrace that Israelis must realize their civil rights in a foreign country."