One-fifth of Israeli couples marry outside Orthodoxy

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JERUSALEM — About one in five Israeli couples who married in 1994 chose to do so without involving Israel's Orthodox rabbinate.

This finding emerged from a study conducted by Hemdat, the Council for Freedom of Science, Religion and Culture, which found that 21,000 marriages were registered with the Chief Rabbinate in 1994 compared with the 26,149 registered with Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.

According to the figures, which were presented in a pamphlet "Freedom in Marriage," more than 5,000 couples — some 20 percent of all those who wed — chose alternative marriage ceremonies.

Professor Hillel Shoval, Hemdat's chairman, said the study indicated a growing demand in Israel for alternative marriages.

Civil and non-Orthodox marriages are only recognized in Israel if conducted abroad.

Shoval said the alternative marriages had included civil ceremonies in Cyprus, proxy marriages in Paraguay and ceremonies performed abroad by Israeli Reform and Conservative rabbis.

He said the couples who chose those ceremonies were from three main groups: couples who preferred not to marry within the Orthodox framework of the established rabbinate; couples barred from marriage for reasons of halachah (Jewish law); and immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who can't always provide proof of Jewish background.

Shoval acknowledged a reluctance within Israel's political system to change the religious status quo.

He said he hoped that two factors would reverse that in the future: a growing demand among Israelis for an alternative to Orthodox marriages and the coming of a time when the government would no longer be dependent upon religious parties to keep a coalition together.

Knesset member Avraham Ravitz, of the United Torah Judaism bloc, rejected the Hemdat study, saying that the figures were not authoritative.