Israeli rabbis performing private weddings still subject to two-year jail terms

Israel’s Cabinet on Nov. 30 rejected a proposed change to a law that criminalizes rabbis who perform wedding ceremonies outside the Chief Rabbinate’s purview. The proposal sought to overturn legislation that allows up to two years in jail for the officiating rabbis of “illegal weddings,” as well as for the couples.

The January 2014 legislation eased restrictions on marriage registration by allowing couples to go outside their communities to find a rabbi certified by the Chief Rabbinate. Criminalizing rabbis and couples who participate in nonsanctioned weddings was a last-minute addition to the law. Dozens of couples marry outside of the Chief Rabbinate every year.

“The present law is an outrage,” Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the Itim Advocacy Center, which wrote the proposed amendment, said in a statement. “I am disappointed that the Cabinet couldn’t look beyond petty politics in order to rectify this law, which is disproportionately severe and ludicrous. Israel is now among a few select countries where it is a criminal act to perform a [Jewish wedding].”

Farber said his organization will now seek litigation to protect rabbis and couples who want to be married outside the Chief Rabbinate. — jta