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The Central District Court ruled on Sunday that Israel's interior ministry must recognize hundreds of online marriages registered via Zoom in the U.S. state of Utah, Channel 11 reports.
Judge Efrat Fink's decision means Israeli couples can now marry in a civil ceremony without leaving the country.
Israeli law does not allow civil marriage, and all state-recognized ceremonies must comply with religious laws. However, Ministry of the Interior regulations state that a marriage must be registered even if it was performed abroad, meaning that Israeli couples who marry abroad, can present documents confirming their marriage and be recognized as such.
This is forcing hundreds of Israeli couples seeking civil marriage — either because they are not eligible for religious service under the rules of the Chief Rabbinate, or because the religious service does not reflect their beliefs, — go abroad to get married.
The global pandemic that paralyzed air travel in 2020 and partly in 2021 prompted hundreds of couples to turn to online services in what has been dubbed the “Zoom wedding” and a “marriage in Utah.” But the state refused to confirm them, as the couples in question married while physically on Israeli soil.
Last year, then Interior Minister Aryeh Deri ordered a freeze on the procedure after the Population Department managed to recognize just three such marriages, prompting dozens of couples to go to court.
Uri Regev, president and CEO of the nongovernmental organization Hiddush for Religious Freedom and Equality, welcomed the decision and urged the Population Administration and the Department of the Interior to implement it without delay, stating that “marriage in Utah” represents the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are unable or unwilling to enter into a religious marriage.
MP Yesh Atid Yoray Lahav-Herzano said the decision is “important and fair, and it simply states the obvious: a couple who marry abroad (even via Zoom) must be recognized in Israel. I urge the state not to appeal this decision.”
Uri Keidar, executive director of Be Free Israel, an NGO that advocates policy change on religion and state in Israel, also welcomed the decision, but noted that “it still leaves couples at the mercy of the rabbinate in the event of a divorce.”
All divorce proceedings in Israel must be approved by the Chief Rabbinate, whether or not the marriage took place in a religious ceremony.
Calling on the government to introduce civil marriage, Keidar said: " A country that asks its citizens to risk their lives on its borders to protect it should also allow them to marry within its borders.”
Member of the Knesset Avi Maoz, head of the faction Noam — an extremist faction known for its hardline anti-LGBT and anti-reformist stance, — criticized the decision, saying on Channel 11 news that the court was “ignoring a policy that has been in place for decades.”
“It is inconceivable that the judges in Israel are undermining the foundations of the Jewish State and carrying out a quiet coup to make Israel a people's state. God willing, this will be fixed soon”, — Maoz said, referring to the November 1 general election.
The concept of a “people's state” denies the character of Israel as a Jewish State, stresses the need for absolute equality for all ethnic groups and faiths, and advocates that equality be expressed by all state symbols, institutions and laws in such a way as to create a single national identity for all citizens of Israel.
< br /> Deri, who heads the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Shas party, called on the government's legal adviser, Gali Baharav-Miar, to intervene and suspend the decision.
district court", – Deri said.
The Chief Rabbinate's long-term monopoly on all matters related to marriage has seen the number of secular couples seeking formal marriage steadily decline in recent years.
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