Couple Who Qualified for Religious Marriage Decide on Civil Marriage

What may have been the first civil marriage in Israel of a couple who would have qualified for a religious marriage if they so wished, was performed last week by Knesset-member Shulamit Aloni of the Civil Rights Party. Ms. Aloni, an attorney, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the marriage agreement was signed by the bride and groom, both sabras–native-born Israelis–and countersigned by two witnesses, a man and a woman, at her office on Independence Day eve.

The event was made public only today. The names of the newlyweds were not disclosed to avoid possible harassment. Civil marriage is not recognized in Israel where the Orthodox rabbinate has exclusive control of such family matters. But the status of the couple is nevertheless legal under a regulation that recognizes common law marriage. The marriage agreement covers all material aspects of the marital state, including the rights of children and stipulates that the couple can separate only if both parties agree.

Aloni told the JTA that in the past she has performed marriages for couples denied wedding rites by the religious establishment for halachic reasons. This couple, however, were both born of Jewish parents and did not fall into any of the categories where marriage is forbidden under religious law. Both believe in freedom of conscience, religious freedom and equality of the sexes, Aloni said. Both are graduates of the youth movement, work on the land and served in the army.

Aloni said she had a man and a woman serve as witnesses in order to avoid complications with the religious authorities should the couple ever decide to separate and re-wed according to halacha. She said that in such cases, the Israeli rabbinate would demand a formal, meaning religious, divorce even though it does not recognize the civil marriage. It does so to avoid any doubt as to the marital status of the couple, Aloni said.

If two men served as witnesses, doubt would exist on the part of the rabbinate but since one of the witnesses was a woman, there would be no doubt because religious law does not permit a woman to testify in such cases, she explained.

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