The Rules of Getting Hitched In The Holy Land

When we think of weddings, we think love. In Israel, there are a few other things to consider besides the right partner—you also have to check whether or not you will be able to get married in the country, how, and by whom (if you want the marriage to be recognized as legal in Israel, that is. With some notable exceptions, Israel is a liberal country, and if you just want to hold a ceremony here and are unconcerned with the legal status of your marriage vis-a-vis Israeli law, a unicorn can marry you for all intents and purposes.)

As a witness to hundreds of weddings, I know about the planning that goes into the event from the color scheme, to the dress, to the tiniest details of the venue, but you have to make sure you have your bureaucratic bases covered before discussing the flower arrangements.

Israeli marriages are a religious matter whether you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or Druze; the state only recognizes marriages performed by a religious body if you have one of these religio-national groups on your Israeli I.D. card or wish to be married by one of these authorities if you are coming from abroad. Couples of mixed religious background and tourists often get married abroad in order to obtain a marriage license and then hold a ceremony in Israel to solidify the union in the way they want without meeting all of the requirements for religious marriage in Israel.

Orthodox Jewish Marriages in Israel

Israeli Jewish marriages are performed exclusively by the Orthodox rabbinate, so if you are looking to leave Israel with a marriage license in hand from a Jewish wedding ceremony, you will need to meet the basic halachic criteria. If you are not Jewish, you can be married under the religious authorities of your religion and receive an official marriage certificate.

  • In Israel, all Jewish marriages are performed by Orthodox Rabbis (Reform, Conservative, and other denominations are not officially recognized)

  • As a result, marriages between a Jew and a non-Jew will not performed by this body

  • Likewise, same-sex marriages are not presided over by the Orthodox rabbinate

  • A male Cohen (of priestly lineage) is not permitted to marry a divorced woman or convert

  • If you are divorced, you will need a certificate of bachelorhood from an Orthodox rabbinic court

All this documentation must be presented at the local rabbinate in the city or region where you want to hold the wedding. Once you open a file there, you will need to obtain an submit

  • A certificate of kashrut of the place you are going to get married

  • The name of the officiating Rabbi

Having the Wedding You Want In Israel

If this initial list put you off, don’t worry! While the details of an Orthodox Jewish wedding can be daunting, help is available!  ITIM is a non-profit organization that assists people to navigate the intricacies of Israel’s religious services.  Find out how they can help you with your wedding here. If an Orthodox wedding isn't for you, there are other ways to create a meaningful marriage ceremony in Israel under the liberal Jewish denominations. Important caveat: these ceremonies will not result in a marriage certificate since they do not take place under the auspices of the Orthodox rabbinate. 

A Word About Conversion & Patrilineal Descent

Conversions from non-Orthodox movements of Judaism enable the convert to make aliya to Israel but do not qualify converts as Jews for the purposes of life-cycle events such as marriage and burial. If the mother of the bride or groom or the bride or groom underwent a non-Orthodox conversion either in Israel or abroad, the path to chuppa is likely to be fraught with further religious challenges. Heads up to Jews of patrilineal descent:  unlike the Reform movement in America, the Israeli reform movement does not recognize children of a Jewish father who have been raised in Judaism as Jewish, and any such person wishing to get married in Israel would be required to undergo an Orthodox conversion. 

Reform Weddings in Israel 

While the majority of American Jews identify as Reform, Reform does not have the same hold on the Israeli public. Under 4% of Israeli Jews identify as Reform, according to a 2013 survey from Ha'aretz. Although a similar quantity of respondents identify as Conservative, less than 1% of both groups reports any involvement in ritual life.  IRAC has been the primary body advocating for the rights of Reform and Conservative clergy in Israel to get state-backing for their denominations, but legal victories that will impact Jewish weddings in Israel don't seem to be on the horizon. Even though the law hasn't changed, the Reform movement is making a few waves here and here. When you are ready to start planning your Reform wedding in Israel, this is the link you want. 

Conservative Weddings in Israel

In Israel , the Conservative movement is known as the Masorti movement and boasts upwards of 50 congregations.  Not long ago, the first Israeli, Conservative, and gay rabbi took the pulpit; you can check out the full story here. Start planning you Conservative wedding in Israel with help from the local Masorti movement

Gay and Lesbian Weddings in Israel

While Israel does not perform gay marriages, Israeli same-sex couples can be recognized as common-law spouses for legal, tax, and benefits purposes. Some rabbis of Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist denominations may perform same sex marriages. If you can’t find Rabbi who will work with you, consider a different figure who can infuse your ceremony with the meaning you want.  MK Tzipi Livni officiated at this same-sex marriage! 

"Brit Zugiut" (Domestic Partnership for For Persons of No Religious Status) 

In recent years, Israel has allowed for an opening in what has been an air-tight religious affair with a law permitting a domestic partnership when both members of the partnership have no official religious affiliation. In order to qualify for a brit zugiut (domestic partnership):

  • The partnership must consist of a man and a woman over 18 years of age

  • Both must be permanent residents in Israel

  • Both must be registered as not religiously affiliated in the Ministry of the Interior

  • There must be no degree of family relation between the members of the couple

  • The couple must not already be married to other partners or married to each other (from a ceremony outside of Israel)

Discussion about marriage in Israel is entangled in multiple layers of religion and politics, but that shouldn't put a damper on your event once you have the right information about the type of wedding you want to hold.

I wish you tons of luck with your wedding planning, and if I can help answer answer questions you may have about my experience with reform, conservative, non-Jewish or alternative weddings in Israel, I am happy to help! Mazal tov!