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Reform Wedding in Israel
Legal Aspects

The Similarities and the Differences of the Marriage Ceremony in Progressive Judaism

The marriage ceremony according to the principles of Progressive Judaism is a traditional ceremony in which all of the required elements of a Halachic wedding are included. The chuppah, under which the marriage ceremony places, is a symbol for the home which the couple will begin to build together. The ceremony itself includes the Erusin (engagement) blessings, the exchange of wedding bands, the Sheva Brachot (the Seven Wedding Blessings), and stepping on the glass. Progressive Judaism sees great importance in the couples understanding of the essence of the Halachic and traditional components of the ceremony.

What is different?

Two main principles of the Progressive Jewish marriage ceremony make it unique from an Orthodox ceremony:

  1. Equality of the sexes is a basic value of the Progressive Jewish way of life. The age-old traditional Chuppah ceremony perpetuates the ancient perception of ownership the groom sanctifies the bride with the ring and gives her the ketubah which in essence is a declaration of obligation while at the same time serving as a bill of ownership.
    In the Progressive Jewish Chuppah ceremony, there is no act of buying or ownership. The validity and strength of the marriage ceremony lies in the reciprocity of the statements. The exchanging of rings becomes a symbol of equality and true partnership. The principle of equality is additionally expressed in the wording of the ketubah, which is the couples declaration of their mutual commitment and plans to establish a Jewish family.

  2. The marriage ceremony is one of the most important and special moments in one's life. The Movement for Progressive Judaism believes it is the right of the couple to participate in shaping the ceremony in a way that properly reflects the nature of the couple's relationship. The couple is invited to take part in designing the ketubah together with the rabbi who instructs and guides them in choosing different blessings, incorporating blessings from family and friends, adding readings and songs that express their feelings and thoughts, and more.

Who is Progressive Jewish Ceremony Meant For?

For every Jewish couple that desires to marry in the spirit of Progressive Judaism. This type of marriage is fitting for every couple who wishes to include in their marriage ceremony liberal, egalitarian, and creative components aspects that contribute to the significance of this moment in their lives together. In special cases, the Progressive Jewish marriage ceremony may be suitable for couples for whom the establishment does not provide an answer such as the marriage of a Kohen and a divorced woman, those who are ineligible to marry, and other such similar cases. Movement rabbis do not perform marriage ceremonies for couples who are not Jews according to the Halacha.

The Need for Civil Marriage Ceremonies

The State of Israel granted the Orthodox rabbinic establishment exclusive authority over marriage and divorce issues of Jews in Israel. The rabbinate does not recognize marriage ceremonies performed by non-Orthodox rabbis. Nevertheless, in accordance with international accords, the state does recognize marriage ceremonies legally performed in other countries, and registers the couple in the Population Registry as married.

The Validity of the Marriage Ceremony in the Eyes of the State

According to the policy currently followed, civil marriages conducted outside of Israel grant the couple the right to register as married in the Population Registry (i.e. on their Identity Cards). Thus, state authorities and private bodies such as the National Insurance Institute, the Ministry of Housing, the tax authorities, health care providers, insurance companies, etc. will consider them married. This status grants them the rights normally given to married couples in these institutions.

The Validity of the Ceremony for the Purpose of Divorce and the Get

Divorce proceedings of Jewish couples are under the exclusive authority, by law, of the rabbinical courts. Thus, in the case that the couple requests a divorce, they will need to turn to the rabbinical courts for the purpose of arranging a get. Even if the Beit Din or courts do not grant full status to civil marriages, there is a possibility that the Beit Din will require a get. At this point, it seems there is an advantage for couples who married outside of the rabbinical establishment. Ending a marriage of this type may be done through a quicker process that does not require proving a reason or the agreement to grant a get. In this way, the delays of arranging a divorce are prevented. The willingness of the Beit Din to declare a marriage invalid prevents the occurrence of the problem of aginut (being chained) that occurs in the case of a couple's separation without a get.

Yet, as stated above, there is a reasonable possibility that the Beit Din will recognize the marriage and will require a regular get. The existence of a prenuptial agreement between spouses can reduce the interaction with the Beit Din regarding the get and ensure the proceedings on property and alimony will take place in a civil court. In the framework of the agreement, the couple may stipulate that all financial discussions take place in a civil court. In the absence of an agreement, the court in which the proceedings will take place is the first location the request is submitted. In this case, there may be far-reaching implications for the rights of the different sides.

The Validity of the Ceremony as it pertains to Personal Status

The question of the validity of the marriage may arise, in the case of turning to the courts for the purpose of divorce or receiving the rights that stem from a marital relationship such as the division of property or alimony. In the existing legal situation, the authority to deal with most issues of personal status is given equally to both the rabbinical courts and the civil court system. The court in which the matter will be decided is the court to which the suit/request is submitted by one of the spouses. In light of the double authority between the rabbinical courts and the civil courts, it is necessary to examine the treatment of each of these systems toward the Progressive Jewish marriage ceremony.

The Stance of the Rabbinical Beit Din

In the current situation, there is a possibility that the rabbinical courts will not recognize the validity of a marriage ceremony performed by a Progressive Jewish rabbi or validity of a civil marriage performed outside of Israel. The meaning of this is that even if the rabbinical court requests a get from the couple terminate the relationship, it is possible that it will not recognize this relationship as one entailing the rights and obligations between spouses. It is important to note that the rabbinical courts' lack of recognition may in fact be a considerable advantage for those who get married outside of the Orthodox rabbinical establishment. The court, it is safe to assume, will require the couple to divorce, and in the case that the rest of the personal status issues are placed in the hands of the court for family issues, the interaction with the rabbinical court system will be reduced.

The Stance of the Courts for Family Issues

The courts have ruled a number of times that a private marriage ceremony when the participants were not prevented from marrying under the Orthodox rabbinate is not legally binding. From this, it seems that the courts will not recognize the validity of the Progressive Jewish marriage ceremony by itself. The courts, however, are inclined to view civil marriages abroad as a source of rights and obligations between the couple, and to grant this union a similar weight as marriages performed by state authorities in Israel. In order to systematically address the rights and obligations of the members of the couple in the clearest way, it is recommended to draw up a prenuptial agreement between the couple before marriage.

Financial Agreement between Partners The Necessity and Advantages of Having One

The existence of a prenuptial agreement between partners, that arranges and establishes the system of their rights and obligations regarding property issues, is the recommended way to overcome the gaps that exist in Israel law concerning this issue and to set right the distorted regulations that are a part of the religious law. The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism highly recommends that couples choosing to marry through the Movement arrange a financial agreement with the purpose of addressing and documenting their rights and obligations concerning the framework of marriage. For more information on preparing a prenuptial financial agreement, please contact the legal department of the Movement: 02-6256261. We also recommend contacting a private attorney for further advice in this field.

The Implications of the Marriage regarding Children

It is important to emphasize that the status of children regarding their belonging religiously and nationally to the Jewish people is not affected by the choice of a couple to have an alternative marriage ceremony, i.e. one outside of the Orthodox rabbinical establishment. The status of the children concerning the registration of their religion and nationality in the Population Registry is determined by the mother, and in the case that the mother is Jewish, the children will be registered as Jews. The joining of the parents in a non-Orthodox marriage ceremony does not call into question one's lineage (mamzerut, etc.). The children will not somehow be damaged by their parents' choice, and in the case that they choose to do so, they may marry through the Orthodox rabbinate one day. Regarding the rights of children (child support, inheritance, etc.), the law and the courts do not take into consideration the nature of the parents' marriage. The legal rights of children are ensured with no connection whatsoever to the type of marriage the parents chose.

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