Israel’s Supreme Court to Decide on Validity of Mixed Marriage

A special five-justice Supreme Court panel had under advisement today a case involving the issue of whether a marriage by an Israeli Jew to a Christian woman in another country was valid in Israel.

The individuals involved were Henriette Funck of Ghent who, unable to marry Yisrael Schlesinger in Israel, under Israeli personal status laws, went with him to Cyprus where the marriage was performed. Personal status laws are in sole control of the Israeli rabbinate. There is no civil marriage in Israel.

When the couple returned to Israel, the authorities refused to recognize the union but Schlesinger nevertheless had his identity card status changed from single to married and was taxed accordingly. The woman argued through her attorney that the marriage was recognized under Belgian law and that Israeli non-recognition of the union was a violation of international law.

She contended also that Israel’s registration law requires the registrar to list her as married on presentation of documentary proofs which was done. Since the two were registered as wed, she contended, she should be issued a certificate as his wife.

The attorney for the state argued that Jewish law did not recognize a union between a Jew and a Christian and he cited a British law which, he said, applied in Cyprus which invalidates marriages of persons who are unable to wed in their respective countries and travel to a third country for that purpose. He said that the change in Schlesinger’s identity card from single to married was made in error and need not be recognized by the registrar.

In view of the importance of the issue, bearing on the role of Jewish religious law in the lives of Israeli Jews, the court decided, when the case was filed several months ago, to have it heard by five rather than the usual three Supreme Court Justices.

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