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Canadian Jews Explain Marriage Laws to Government Body Pondering Changes

The Canadian Jewish Congress’ National Religious Affairs Committee has presented a committee of the Canadian Senate, at its request, with a detailed explanation of marriage prohibitions under Jewish law.

The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is considering eight bills in which couples seek exemption from legal bans on marriage between blood relations and other kin. It has asked various religious and other groups for their views on pending domestic marital legislation.

The CJC brief, prepared by Rabbi Robert Sternberg, director of the Religious Affairs Committee, stressed that marriage is considered the most holy relationship under Jewish religious law and the nuclear family is the primary bond between persons. Therefore “Jewish law is very explicit as to the kind of human relationships which are permissible,” he said.

The brief described the Biblical prohibitions. The Bible prohibits marriage between a child and parent and therefore infers that there can be no marriage between grandparents and grandchildren as well. There are 17 basic prohibitions in the Bible, including homosexual relationships and relations between humans and animals.

The brief noted that the present Federal Marriage Act and the Quebec Civil Act are similar in structure to Jewish law in most areas. Any legislated changes which would relax restrictions between relatives would pose a problem for the Jewish community because the individuals could obtain civil marriage where it would be banned by religion.

The cases under consideration by the Senate committee involve eight couples who include uncles and nieces, brothers and sisters-in-law and others who may not marry under present Canadian law.

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