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Liberals Decide to Force Issue of Limited Civil Marriage in Israel

The Independent Liberal Party decided last night to force the issue of a limited civil marriage bill in the Knesset before the summer recess at the end of July. The decision once more raised the prospect of a major Cabinet crisis that could lead to new elections next fall, a full year ahead of schedule.

Premier Golda Meir has threatened to resign if the Mapam faction, a constituent of her Labor Alignment, votes for the ILP measure. A vote on the bill, drafted by Gideon Hausner of the ILP, was postponed last week when Mapam asked for additional time to consider its position. The Mapam secretariate decided to support the Hausner bill despite Mrs. Meir’s threat but its decision has to be confirmed by the party’s political bureau. ILP spokesmen said last night that they expected a Mapam decision shortly and would ask the Knesset Speaker to schedule a vote before recess.

Civil marriage is presently forbidden in Israel where the Orthodox rabbinate has exclusive jurisdiction over matters of personal status. The Hausner bill would allow civil marriage for persons denied marriage rites by the rabbinate for religious reasons. It is bitterly opposed by the religious parties whose position is backed by Premier Meir. Mrs. Meir’s Labor Alignment and the religious bloc could easily muster the votes to defeat the Hausner bill, but the defection of Mapam on the issue and the determination of the ILP, a coalition party, to force a vote would be a severe blow to coalition unity.

Rabbi Yedida Fraenkel, of Tel Aviv, who is regarded as an authority in matters of halacha (religious law) claims that halacha offers plausible solutions to most problems such as those relating to the marriage of persons deemed “unmarriageable” by the rabbinate. He told a symposium on Judaism in Tel Aviv that if the rabbis tried hard enough they could find a way out without violating the halacha. But he said patience and good will was needed on both sides.

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