Jerusalem Municipality Sued for Discriminating Against non-Orthodox, Gay Couples Planning to Wed

Initiative offers couples marrying in Jerusalem to hold their weddings, free of charge, in one of nearly a dozen outdoor sites. However, only couples who marry through the Orthodox-controlled rabbinate are eligible to apply

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Crowd at Jerusalem Pride, June 6, 2019.
Crowd at Jerusalem Pride, June 6, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Several Israeli organizations dedicated to Jewish pluralism and religious freedom filed a suit against the city of Jerusalem on Monday, claiming discrimination against couples who wed outside the auspices of the Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate.

Under a special initiative launched by the municipality this week, couples marrying in Jerusalem this summer are being invited to hold their wedding ceremonies, free of charge, in one of nearly a dozen outdoor sites, including popular parks and gardens, some famous for their spectacular views. However, only couples who marry through the rabbinate are eligible to apply.

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That rules out couples who choose to be married by non-Orthodox rabbis or Orthodox rabbis not recognized by the rabbinate. It also rules out gay couples and individuals not recognized by the rabbinate as Jewish according to halakha, or religious law.

The suit was filed in the Jerusalem District Court by the Reform movement in Israel, Israel Hofsheet (Free Israel), the Jerusalem Open House, which serves the gay community, and The Aguda – Israel’s LGBTQ Task Force. Among the petitioners are also Hagai Efrat and Mor Gal, a couple from Jerusalem whose application to the program was declined because they were planning to marry through a Reform rabbi.

The petitioners are being represented by the Israel Religious Action Center – the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel.

In their suit, they demanded an injunction against the program until all couples, not only those marrying through the rabbinate, are deemed eligible to apply.

Asked for comment, a spokesman for the Jerusalem municipality said: “We have not yet received the suit at our office, and we will respond, as is customary, in court.”

Announced two weeks ago, the program by the name of “Marrying in Jerusalem,” was created to assist couples marrying this summer during the coronavirus pandemic when most wedding halls are closed because of government-mandated restrictions. Under current regulations, no more than 20 guests can attend a wedding ceremony. The program, which officially opened Sunday, is meant to run through September 18, the eve of Rosh Hashana.

At least one member of each marrying couple must be a resident of Jerusalem to qualify for the program, and all those registered must commit in advance to make all their wedding purchases from Jerusalem-based vendors.

The suit notes that other cities – among them, Givatayim and Hod Hasharon – have introduced similar initiatives this summer, but these do not require participating couples to marry through the rabbinate.

Among the locations included in the Jerusalem program are the Garden of Resurrection in the Old City, the Armon Hanatziv promenade, the Mount Scopus promenade, the Rose Garden and the Jerusalem Forest.

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