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State & Religion

JPW Knesset Update

What We Saw Last Week, and What We Can Expect This Week in the Knesset

Dear Friends!

Marriage and divorce in Israel is one of the key issues in the state and religion discourse. However, like other matters of state and religion, there is an almost unfathomable gap between public opinion and government policy in this area. Dozens of polls over the years consistently show that a clear majority of the public is interested in the option of civil marriage, and yet government policy is still not in step with the public mood. Did you know that Israel is the only democracy in which marriage is exclusively religious and that it is the only country in the OECD which does not allow freedom of marriage?

On Tuesday this week history was made when civil marriage was discussed in the Knesset for the first time ever, pushing it to the forefront of the public agenda. Channel 12 News reported that thanks to a "deal" consular marriage would be permitted in return for the deletion of the "grandchild modification" clause in the Law of Return. What is consular marriage, you may be wondering? In an interview on the Knesset Channel, JPW Director Adv. Sharon Banyan-Primor shed some light on the thorny subject of marriage and divorce.

Emily Levy-Shochat

 Chair, Jewish Pluralism Watch


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Adv. Sharon Banyan-Primor

Director, Jewish Pluralism Watch


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On Tuesday, the Committee on Special National Infrastructure Initiatives and Jewish Religious Services held a debate on civil marriage for the first time in the Knesset's history. The JPW prepared and distributed to the participants a document containing all information required for a professional and substantive discussion.

Committee Chair MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beitenu) presented her case for civil marriage: "Some 520 thousand Israeli citizens are unable to fulfil their right to marry. Israel is the only democracy in the world which does not allow civil marriage. There are a large number of halachic Jews who have lost their faith and do not wish to marry in the Rabbinate, and that is their prerogative." At the conclusion of the discussion, she added: "Religious marriage alongside civil marriage, that is the way. We are a Jewish state but we are also a democracy. I call on the government of Israel and the Prime Minister, we have to go forward without conditions and without deals. I believe wholeheartedly that this is a basic and fundamental right."

MK Yorai Lahav Hertzanu (Yesh Atid) referred to the right to marry as a fundamental right: "I am Jewish, and this country was established so that every Jew and Jewess in the world would be free to follow their conscience in their own way. The right to marry is a citizen's constitutional right. The fact that I and thousands of others cannot marry because they were born to the wrong mother or the chosen object of their affections is unacceptable, is a shame and a disgrace."

MK Moshe (Kinley) Tur-Paz (Yesh Atid): "This question lies at the very heart of Jewish discourse in Israel. This is a Jewish state and a democracy. We need to allow people to choose which kashrut they prefer, which conversion method they want and how they wish to marry. The greater choice we permit in religious matters, the more Judaism and the more religion we will have. Advancing civil marriage will be to our advantage."

JPW Director Sharon Banyan-Primor drew a connection between governability and marriage: "Civil marriage is not only a matter of natural rights but also a matter of governability. The state has lost the ability to monitor who is married and who is not. The state has waived its right to govern and to know, to manage the system and to give people a choice and also bring them closer to Judaism."


On Monday, Channel 12 News reported the brokering of a "deal" that would enable civil marriage in Israel. According to the report the Minister for Religious Services Matan Kahana (Yemina) will agree to advance consular marriage and in return will call for the cancellation of the grandchild clause in the Law of Return.

Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beitenu) tweeted in response: "There is no deal – there are only lies. I hear the reports about a supposed deal that will allow people to marry in consulates in exchange for the annulment of the grandchild clause in the Law of Return. I am not familiar with any such proposal and Yisrael Beitenu will never sit in a government that would agree to such foolishness. Civil marriage is an important initiative and has to be achieved without conditions."

Minister of Intelligence Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid) said with reference to the report: "The grandchild clause in the Law of Return is strategically important for Diaspora Jews and for Israel. It is and will not be negotiable under this government."


On Tuesday, following reports of the "deal" to advance consular marriage in Israel in return for deletion of the grandchild clause in the Law of Return, JPW Director Adv. Sharon Banyan-Primor was interviewed on Mishkan Lay'la (an evening current affairs program on the Knesset TV Channel) presented by Hani Zubida.

Sharon clarified the term consular marriage: "Consular marriage is not exactly civil marriage. Israelis living in Israel can only legally marry in the Rabbinate. The other option is to fly abroad and pay thousands of shekels to marry in a foreign country. The idea is to enable Israeli couples to marry in foreign consulates in Israel, in the same format as marrying abroad." Addressing the right to marry, she said: "Israel is the only democracy in the world where Jews do not enjoy freedom of religion. This should enrage anyone for whom freedom is important, for whom Israel's future as a Jewish state is important and for anyone who gives equal weight to the Jewish and democratic character of the state. These are fundamental human rights which are being violated. The right to marry is a natural right, a fundamental right that every citizen in Israel should enjoy."


On Wednesday, following a discussion on civil marriage that took place in the Committee on Special National Infrastructure Initiatives and Jewish Religious Services, the Committee Chair MK Yulia Malinovsey (Yisrael Beitenu) forwarded a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (Yemina) and to the coalition leaders calling for the appointment of a coalition team that would devise solutions to the issue of civil marriage in Israel.

Term of the Week

The Law of Return - The Law was enacted in 1950 and is one of the cornerstones of Israel's Jewish character. The law's intention was to enable unrestricted Jewish immigration to Israel in the period following the Holocaust in order to give substance to the definition of the State of Israel as "a safe refuge for the Jewish people". The law contains a number of reservations which may lead to the denial of an immigration request, such as: the applicant engages in hostile activities against the Jewish people; they may represent a danger to public health or to state security; or the applicant has a criminal past which might jeopardize public safety.

Over the years the law has been amended and a definition of a Jew has been added as well as the "grandchild clause". As it stands at the moment, the Law of Return defines a Jew as "someone born to a mother who is Jewish or has been converted to Judaism, and who is not a member of another religion." The law does not specify the type of conversion that the applicant need undergo and this forms the basis of the ruling that was handed down in March 2021 which determined that Conservative and Reform conversions performed in Israel must be recognized for the purposes of the Law of Return. The grandchild clause that was appended in 1970 states that a Jew's rights under this law and the rights of a new immigrant under the Citizenship Law and under any other law, apply to the Jew's children and grandchildren and to their spouses, with the exception of a Jew who converted to another religion of their own free will.

JPW's Education Desk

This week we met with participants in the Hartman Institute's Hevruta Gap-Year Program. We discussed the various streams in Judaism and their status in Israel. We also discussed freedom of religion and the current situation in Israel with regard to this issue. We also discussed the inseparability of "Jewish" and "democratic" as Israel's defining principles.

JPW conducts tailor-made seminars, webinars and conferences - physically or online - on contemporary issues of state and religion, meeting with MKs and in-depth discussions on the political aspects of freedom of religion and pluralism in Israel. For further details please email to devora@masorti.org.il

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