More and More Orthodox Israelis Are Ditching the Rabbinate, Study Shows

The number of Orthodox Israeli couples choosing to marry in private ceremonies outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate grew dramatically last year, according to a soon-to-be-published study.

The study, conducted by Panim: The Israeli Judaism Network, found that at least 222 such ceremonies were held in Israel in 2018, compared with 150 the previous year — an increase of nearly 50 percent. Most of the weddings were conducted by Orthodox rabbis not recognized by the Rabbinate.

No official figure exists for the number of marriages performed in Israel outside the state authority, because couples who wed in such ceremonies cannot register as married at the Interior Ministry’s Population Registry. Couples who wed in civil ceremonies abroad, however, are allowed to register as married upon their return.

Panim is an association of dozens of Israeli nonprofits dedicated to promoting Jewish pluralism in the country. This is the second year it has attempted to calculate the number of Jewish marriages taking place in Israel outside of the Rabbinate.

Its latest study was based on interviews with 52 well-known wedding officiators in Israel, many of them affiliated with the Conservative and Reform movements. It also conducted 15 interviews with organizations active in promoting Jewish pluralism and religious freedom in the country, most prominently Israel Hofsheet (Be Free Israel).

In its report, the organization noted that its tally does not take into account couples married by family members and friends as it has no access to these numbers. As a result, the actual number of Jewish couples married outside the Rabbinate is probably much higher than the estimate listed in the study, which is expected to be published in the coming days.

Non-Orthodox Israeli couples have been boycotting the Rabbinate for years. In recent years, however, growing numbers are opting to hold their ceremonies in Israel rather than travel abroad. This would suggest they are less concerned about whether they are officially recognized as married by the state. Orthodox Israelis have only recently become part of this trend, which is seen as evidence that contempt for the Rabbinate and the power it wields is spreading beyond the obvious circles.