Monday, March 02, 2009

Alternative solutions for civil unions

Alternative solutions for civil unions


A new telephone help line, offering alternative solutions and practical advice to thousands of couples unable to get married in Israel due to the strict Orthodox Jewish laws governing life cycle events, will be launched this weekend by those who oppose the current system.

Designed to coincide with Valentine's Day worldwide, the help line is not the initiative of Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party, which is basing its current coalition negotiations on relaxing the country's civil marriage laws, but of an opposing left-wing NGO that focuses on social justice and equality for all citizens, Jews and Arabs alike.

"Actually what Lieberman wants to do will only help a fraction of those who can't get married in Israel under the current system," said Avihay Ben-Haim, a spokesman for the New Israel Fund, which will operate the hot line with its empowerment and training offshoot, Shatil.

"What [Lieberman] wants is slightly different to us," Ben Haim insisted to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "He is willing to reach a compromise with Shas on this issue, and that will most likely mean civil marriages only for those who are in mixed relationships or are not Jews. He really only cares about his direct electorate, and we want civil marriages for all."

Under the current system, all Jews who want to get married in Israel must do so under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate and in a traditional Orthodox wedding ceremony. However, the NIF maintains that there are more than 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union - essentially Lieberman's supporters - who do not have the right to get married in Israel because their Jewish roots are questionable according to Halacha. The same holds true for these immigrants' offspring, and hundreds of other couples who are simply not interested in an Orthodox ceremony face similar problems. Same-sex wedding ceremonies are also not recognized by the religious authority.

According to Ben-Haim, there are many alternatives to Orthodox wedding ceremonies, including the option of a civil wedding in Cyprus, a Reform Jewish ceremony and even a legally binding marriage contract, which has become popular in recent years as an alternative to traditional wedding ceremonies.

"Our goal is to be able to help those who are not permitted to declare their love in a formal way in this country," said Yuval Yavne, who will run the hot line (07-324-45050) during its trial period for the next three months. "The hot line is aimed at those who are not interested in getting married in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony but who are looking for an alternative option."

Yavne noted that there was "a lack of information and awareness regarding the options that are available, and this is where we can come in and help." He added that Valentine's Day was an appropriate time to remember that "the State of Israel prevents many couples from expressing their love in a formal way and that it does not recognize civil weddings as the basis of marriage."