Whether Russians, who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, are being prohibited from marrying under rabbinical law; treatment of their children [ISR35453.E]

An 18 September 2000 Business Week report states that Russians have difficulties in obtaining marriage licenses because they are not recognized as Jews by the Jewish orthodoxy.

An 11 September 2000 UPI report states that:

Orthodox rabbis have a monopoly on marrying Jews in Israel, creating a problem for hundreds or thousands of Israelis who resent the religious ceremony or whom rabbis will not marry. Rabbis will not perform mixed marriages, nor marry children of non-Jewish mothers who do not convert. Many Israelis go abroad, to Cyprus for example, to marry, or do not marry at all.

A background paper published on the Website of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), an organization that promotes "religious freedom and pluralism, tolerance, social justice and civil liberties in Israel," states that:

Israeli Law does not permit civil marriage. This system causes problems for many Israelis who seek alternatives by traveling abroad to marry...
Israeli law grants authority over all matters of marriage of Jews in Israel to the Orthodox Rabbinate. The law does not provide for civil marriage and non-Orthodox Rabbis are not allowed to perform marriages. The Orthodox monopoly over marriage and divorce violates Israel's Declaration of Independence protecting freedom of religion and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Israel is a signatory. Article 23 of the Covenant states: "Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution."
The current situation results in severe limitations on the right to marry and found a family. Citizens without a religion make up a large number of those affected. It is estimated that out of the 800,000 new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union that have come to Israel since 1989, approximately 30% are not Jewish by Orthodox standards (according to Chief Rabbinate and Interior Ministry sources). In addition, the Chief Rabbinate does not recognize as Jews those who converted abroad in non-Orthodox conversions and will not marry them. Interfaith couples also cannot marry in Israel, even if one partner has no religion. Others, such as a cohen and divorcee or a widow wishing to marry who has not received a ritual release from her deceased husband's brother (levirate marriage) are forbidden to marry according to halacha and have no other options. Those wanting a non-Orthodox religious ceremony also are denied this right.

A 15 February 2000 Haaretz report states that:

In Israel, hundreds of thousands of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union cannot marry in a religious ceremony because their status as Jews is doubted or because they are not recognized as Jews according to the halacha. Israeli law only recognizes the validity of weddings or civil marriages performed abroad, forcing these new immigrants to travel to Cyprus or Russia - away from home and family - to conduct the marriage ceremony.

No report on the treatment of children born to couples whose marriages are not recognized could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Business Week [ New York]. 18 September 2000. Neal Sandler. "Israel: Can a 'Secular Revolution' Save the Peace Process." (NEXIS)

Ha'aretz [Tel Aviv, in Hebrew]. 15 February 2000. "Make Marriages Civil."

The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). n.d. "The Right to Marry - Background Article." http://www.irac.org/article_e.asp?artid=16 [Accessed 24 Oct. 2000]

United Press International (UPI). 11 September 2000. Joshua Brilliant. "Barak Outlines Plan to Secularize Israel." (NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB databases

Internet sources including:

Amnesty International

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)

Country Reports 1999

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

World News Connection (WNC)