Why We Don’t Need Civil Marriage in Israel

A well-known rule of game theory says an annoying player may be dispensed with by simply ignoring him. We should try the same tactic with the Chief Rabbinate.

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Members of the civil marriage lobby at a Knesset committee meeting in 2011.Credit: Emil Salman
Irit Rosenblum

We’re all familiar with the phrase “when hell freezes over,” meaning that something will never happen. Well, civil marriage will never happen in Israel. Partly because there’s no political coalition that could make it happen, but also because there’s no need for it.

Civil marriage in Israel is an issue that sustains everybody – especially our political leadership, which needs this sort of political dynamite in order to justify its existence and spur various economies. Since the state’s founding, 30 civil marriage bills have been proposed, the most recent just a month ago. And no less than three political parties (Yisrael Be’aliyah, Yisrael Beiteinu and Shinui) were established with the aim of introducing civil marriage here, if only for the sake of the new immigrants – those good citizens of the state who are unable to get married in it.

None of this helped in the least, and nothing has changed. So it’s perfectly clear that nothing will ever change – since the one who has to change doesn’t want to change, and is also making a good career out of it.

The Chief Rabbinate is to blame, and every day that passes allows it to enjoy the situation even more: It enriches its coffers, fortifies its control, dictates its policies. With this abundance of goodness, so what if a little rain and dirt falls on your head from time to time? A good conflict is a never-ending conflict, one that’s a continual source of energy – and the marriage conflict is just that. Not to mention the fact there are no fatalities involved, just some woman who’ll have to remain an aguna for the rest of her life, because she can’t obtain a religious divorce and therefore can’t remarry; or a humiliated mamzer who can’t find peace because of the circumstances of their birth; or a troublesome immigrant couple that’s suing for the money they had to spend to travel abroad to get married – it all dwarfs in comparison to this fantastic situation in which you get lots of money and lots of control.

Despite all the wonders of the civil marriage dispute, it could also be brought to an end without a resolution. We could just let it die. A well-known rule of game theory says an annoying player may be dispensed with by simply ignoring him. Ignoring someone can be effective if you don’t let that player feel he is necessary or let your annoyance show. If you don’t react to the problematic player, his impact dwindles – until he either goes away altogether or, better still, mends his ways.

In Israel, there’s no longer the need to get married, because today the status of common-law partners, or those who possess a domestic partnership certificate, is equal – in nearly every way – to the status of married couples. (Married here refers to those who wed in a religious ceremony here, as well as those who wed in a civil ceremony abroad.) In other words, it’s already possible to not get married at all and enjoy equal rights, so why do we keep letting that annoying player bother us? We should cease using his services, cease relating to his whims, and he’ll eventually go away. Or, better yet, mend his ways.

Forget all that’s been said. The most important fact is that religious marriage and civil marriage are worn-out goods these days. It’s not that we don’t want love or marriage or family: we want those things very much; we just don’t want them to control us, we don’t want them to impose their rules on us.

Citizens of the world, us included, have learned that it’s possible another way. One can have a wonderful relationship and an excellent family – even with a fully religious lifestyle – but we wish to control these things ourselves. Thus, the state and its institutions, religious or secular, have no place controlling our love lives and family life. We can do that just fine ourselves. As soon as we ignore this key player, the marriage conflict will end and we will be free. To that end, we don’t need yet another civil marriage bill.

The writer is an attorney who specializes in family and fertility law, and is the founder and director of the New Family Organization.

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