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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious intolerance in Israel

Part 4: Marriage restrictions.
Schools. Gender discrimination

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Restricted freedom to marry:

Israel is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 23 of the Covenant that declares that men and women have the right to marry and to found a family, and are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. However, Israel does not appear to have met its obligations under the Covenant. It is believed to be the only democratic nation in the world that does not allow its citizens access to a non-religious, civil marriage unless they leave the country.

Currently, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is the religious authority that regulates all Jewish marriages. There are similar authorities that regulate Christian, Muslim and Druze couples.

This produces at least five problems. There is no provision for:

bulletInter-faith marriages. A couple who follows two different religions, or a secularist and a member of a religion cannot be officially married.
bulletCivil marriages for couples who want a non-religious wedding.
bulletSecular Jews, and Jews who follow non-Orthodox Jewish traditions, like Reform Judaism. These form the majority of adults in Israel.
bulletCouples where one or two partners are not a Jew, Christian, Muslim or Druze.
bulletLoving, committed same-sex couples in Israel who are discriminated against by all of the religious authorities. 1

However, couples who do not fit into the system can leave the country, marry in a foreign country, return to Israel, and have their weddings recognized by the state as legal. Many non-conforming couples travel to Cyprus to marry. Others get married by mail in Paraguay.

According to author Suraya Dadoo:

"The rules on marriage are enforced by Israel's small, but influential, Orthodox community. Drawing on Old Testament statutes, these rabbis argue that God recognizes only Jewish marriages conducted according to Orthodox tradition. With secular and liberal Jews now constituting the majority of the Israeli population, the situation has become increasingly problematic, as many reject Orthodox traditions, mainly because they believe it discriminates against women.

According to halakhic law (Jewish law), a marriage can conventionally be terminated in two ways: the death of a spouse, or the issuing of a get (divorce). A husband can, in principle, refuse to give a get indefinitely, and the woman cannot remarry or have children. In addition, childless widows must obtain a ritual release from their deceased husband's brother (levirate marriage) in order to re-marry. According to IRAC, those wanting a non-Orthodox religious ceremony simply have no choice in Israel." 2

The Israeli Knesset passed a marriage law in 2003-JUL which prevents Palestinians who marry Israelis from becoming Israeli citizens or residents. Citizens of other countries are allowed to do this. This law was passed as a response to the growing number of marriages of convenience, typically between a Palestinian man and an Israeli Arab woman. This entitles the husband to move into Israel-proper under the family-unification allowance, and receive a blue Israeli identity card. Some have become security risks.

In 2007-JUL, there was some discussion on creating civil marriages in Israel for Israelis who do not belong to one of the officially recognized religions. No progress has been made as of 2009-SEP.

Schooling of Palestinian Arab citizens:

Almost 25% of school children in Israel are Palestinian Arab citizens. By almost all criteria, their education is inferior to that given to Jewish children. The public school system is similar to that found in the first half of the 20th century in some of the southern states of the U.S.  Children in Israel are separated by religion and culture. Schools for Muslim children:

"are more crowded with fewer teachers per child, and in worse physical condition. Some schools lack libraries, counselors, and recreation facilities. Palestinian Arab school children get fewer enrichment and remedial programs, and special education services, than Jewish children receive. Many communities have no kindergartens for three- and four-year-olds." 3

Bus segregation by gender:

In 2007, a petition was circulated by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and author Naomi Ragen to prohibit gender segregation on public transportation facilities. Women's organizations, including the Movement of Working Women & Volunteers and Israeli Women's Lobby have joined the appeal.

Rina Bar-Tal, Chairperson of the Israeli Women's Lobby said:

"It is unthinkable that in a county pretending to be democratic and forward-thinking women are being violently pushed to the back of the bus and are subject to insults and humiliations simply for being female. "This type of conduct is characteristic of primitive regimes which try to turn women, half of their population, to second rate citizens and publicly humiliate them. The transport minister and the Israeli government have a responsibility to end this illegitimate phenomenon and cancel immediately the segregation in haredi bus lines."

Talia Livni, chairperson of Na'amat said:

"Today the ultra-Orthodox are demanding gender-based separation in public transport, in the future they will demand it in work places and public institutes. ... The haredim must realize that in the public sphere they are subject to laws of equality imposed by the state. If they seek segregation in their private spheres, let them, but they cannot force their own gender discrimination on the general public." 4

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Marriage in Israel," Wikipedia, as of 2009-JUN-11, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. Suraya Dadoo, "Love And Marriage In Israel," 2003-NOV-12, at: http://www.countercurrents.org/
  3. "Second Class: Discrimination Against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel's Schools" Human Rights Watch, at: http://www.hrw.org/
  4. "Women's groups join battle against bus segregation," Ynet News, 2009-AUG-18, at:  http://www.ynetnews.com/

Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-12
Latest update: 2009-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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