The Knesset Constitution Committee Wednesday approved for a final vote a bill that would raise the legal age for marriage from 17 to 18. But when a dispute arose in the committee over who should have the power to authorize underage marriages in exceptional cases, Justice Ministry professionals appeared to be at odds with their minister, Tzipi Livni, on the matter.
As now worded, the bill states that 16- and 17-year-olds can marry only with the approval of a civil court. But MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) sought to persuade his colleagues that the Rabbinical Court of Appeals should also be allowed to approve underage marriages.
“Raising [the marriage age] will hurt a normative population group that prepares its youth to marry young,” he said, referring primarily to his own ultra-Orthodox community. “These are families that traditionally marry at a young age. It wouldn’t be proper not to allow them to marry.”
Many ultra-Orthodox Jews would be uncomfortable applying to a civil court for permission to marry, but would have no qualms about applying to a rabbinical court.
To the surprise of many Knesset members, the Justice Ministry’s representatives at the hearing supported Maklev, saying the committee should consider giving rabbinical courts this authority.
But when Justice Minister Livni discovered this, she quickly issued a denial.
“The justice minister does not intend to enable rabbinical courts to permit marriages of minors under 18,” her office said in a statement. “Anyone who claims otherwise is doing so without coordinating with the minister and on his own authority.”