Sharp Rise in Number of Israelis Banned From Marrying Through Rabbinate

A total of 6,727 people are prohibited from marrying in Israel due to issues relating to their Jewishness, a Knesset study shows

FILE PHOTO: A bride waits for her groom in the outskirts of Podolsk near Moscow, Russia, Saturday, June 16, 2018.
Michael Probst/AP

The number of Israelis banned from marrying in the country because their Jewish status has been revoked or because of questions raised about their Jewishness has spiked in recent years, according to data presented to the Knesset on Tuesday.

In 2010, according to the figures, 103 Israelis who registered to wed in the country had their Jewish status revoked after undergoing background checks, and were unable to proceed with their plans. They represented 3.1 percent of all Israelis registering to marry that year who were required to go through background checks. By 2017, their number had more than doubled to 231 – or 6.7 percent of those undergoing the checks that year.

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The figures appear in a report compiled by the Knesset Research and Information Center that was presented to the Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs. The committee held a hearing on the growing number of Israelis appearing on a blacklist of “unmarriageable” individuals maintained by the Chief Rabbinate.

Fewer than 20 percent of Israeli couples marrying in the country are obligated to go through the background checks, which for the most part are demanded of Russian-speaking immigrants whose Jewish credentials are in question.

Another category of individuals on the blacklist whose numbers have grown significantly in recent years is Israelis whose Jewish status is “pending clarification.” According to the figures revealed on Tuesday, their numbers have almost doubled – from 90 in 2010 to 175 in 2017.

According to the report, of the total of 6,727 names appearing on the rabbinate’s blacklist of “unmarriageables,” about 20 percent are among those whose status is “pending clarification.”

This increase coincides with a relatively new practice embraced by the rabbinate: Over the past three years, its representatives have begun summoning Israelis who are already recognized as Jewish, some of whom even married in the country, for background checks after doubts were raised about the religious status of relatives who planned to wed here. In such cases, after the latter applicants had their requests to marry denied, their relatives in Israel were suddenly notified that their Jewish status was either revoked or needs further checking.

At the Knesset committee hearing, several lawmakers expressed outrage at the new practice of blacklisting relatives who had never asked to have their Jewish status verified for the purpose of marriage.

“If the individual did not approach the rabbinical authorities with a request to undergo this process, then the rabbinical authorities do not have the authority to carry out such background checks,” said MK Yulia Malinovsky, from the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is part of the coalition.

Jews cannot marry in the country without providing evidence to the rabbinical authorities that they are Jewish. Typically, that evidence consists of the marriage certificates of their parents or, in the case of Jews from abroad, letters of certification from their congregational rabbis. In most cases, thorough background checks are not necessary. The Chief Rabbinate has the sole authority over marriage and divorce of Jews in Israel; without its approval, Jews cannot be legally wed here.

Last year, ITIM, an organization that assists Israelis struggling with the country’s religious bureaucracy, filed a petition to the Supreme Court on behalf of four families whose members had recently been added to the blacklist. ITIM argued at the time that the Chief Rabbinate does not have the authority to reexamine the Jewish credentials of Israelis who have already been recognized as Jews in the country. It also argued that such background checks constitute an invasion of privacy.

Several months ago, Justice Ministry officials expressed their own reservations about this practice. The next hearing in the Supreme Court case is scheduled for October.

Representatives of the rabbinical authorities who attended the Knesset hearing said that the Chief Rabbinate Council was scheduled to convene on Monday and would decide how to proceed given growing opposition to this new practice.

Besides individuals whose status is pending clarification, the other categories on the blacklist, which the rabbinate began compiling in 1954, are mamzerim (the offspring of relationships forbidden by Jewish law), individuals suspected of still being married, or divorced couples who have resumed living together.