Four Hundred Brides for 1,000 Men

The answer to the question of who gets married abroad is fairly clear: Only one out of every three Israelis who marries abroad was born in this country.

In 1990, some 270 Israelis got married in Cyprus. In 2000, the number was 3,340 - 12 times as many. Is this due to the 300,000 non-Jewish immigrants who arrived during that decade from the disintegrating Soviet Union?

This is what the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman, appears to believe when he demands that a civil marriage law be enacted as a condition for his party joining the coalition. But perhaps the rise in the number of people deciding to marry abroad is actually the result of an ever-growing protest by young Israelis against the rabbinic institutions?

One of the things that makes the phenomenon extremely difficult to understand is the lack of reliable figures. After all, we are talking about marriages that take place in dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of places abroad. The Interior Ministry knows about them only if the couples report them. Some of these couples do not bother to do so, while others do so at a much later date.

There is another, equally difficult problem: The Interior Ministry registers only the Israeli spouses. For example, in 2000, the Interior Ministry has figures for 8,119 Israelis who married abroad. How can the number be uneven? Very simple - some Israelis married non-Israelis. So how many couples are we talking about? And what characterizes them?

In the most recent issue of the behavioral sciences journal Megamot, Nurit Dovrin, who heads the social survey division of the Central Bureau of Statistics, published a study of those who marry abroad. The study provides answers to these questions: In 2000, 2,230 couples who married abroad consisted of two Israeli partners. Another 3,660 couples consisted of one Israeli partner and one non-Israeli. Altogether Israelis were married abroad in some 5,900 wedding ceremonies.

According to the figures, one out of every 10 Israelis who married in 2000 did so abroad. To what extent do the figures for 2000 resemble this year's? It is worth taking into account that there has been a significant drop in the number of people getting married at all, in Israel and abroad, according to a report by the New Family association. The answer to the question of who gets married abroad is fairly clear: Some 42 percent are immigrants from the former Soviet Union who came to Israel during the 1990s, and 25 percent were born in other countries or came to Israel from the former Soviet Union before the 1990s. The chance that a person born in the former Soviet Union (no matter when he immigrated) will marry abroad is three times higher than that of a person born here.

Since getting married abroad is an expensive business, one may assume that a very large percentage of those who marry abroad do so because they cannot marry in Israel. For example, 1,400 people who did not register their religion were married abroad (17.5 percent of the total) in the year 2000. Of this public, 100 percent of marriages are carried out abroad - because Israeli law does not permit them to marry here.

Four out of every 10 Israelis who marry abroad (41 percent) do so in Cyprus, 16 percent do so in the former Soviet Union and 14 percent in the United States. The number of Israeli men who married in the former Soviet Union in 2000 was close to 1,000. The number of Israeli women who married there was less than 400. The obvious conclusion: Hundreds of Israeli men imported women from the former Soviet Union.

Dovrin examined several other variables in marriages abroad. She found some one-third of them involved divorcees. That means one can assume a bad experience with the rabbinate is one of the reasons for getting married abroad. Those who marry abroad are on average 3.5 years older than those who marry in Israel. The average age of those who marry abroad is 31 for men and 28 for women.