Rabbinical marriage database causes controversy

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Work is underway at the Israeli Ministry of Religious Services on a Jewish marriage and divorce database.

The rabbincial courts and senior rabbinate believe it  will help to prevent bigamy – i.e. Jewish people entering new marriages while their previous ones are still legally valid.

Rabbi Hizkiyahu Samin is head of the marriage department at the Ministry of Religious Services. Speaking to The Jerusalm Post, he said the new database would be open to rabbis in Jewish communties outside Israel, making it easy to ensure that men and women seeking marriage were not already married to someone else and thereby in breach of “the laws of Moses and Israel”.

But it would also, Rabbi Samin suggested, be a useful way to verify the Jewish status of people emigrating into Israel if rabbis in their former communities had already entered details of former marriages or their parents’ marriages into the database.

However, the plans have generated controversy. Campaigners believe the database could disadvantage immigrants to Israel unable to verify their Jewish status. They claim the rabbinical courts already give too much weight to documentary evidence in such cases.

Non-profit organisation ITIM offers information and advice on major milestones in Jewish life, such as birth, marriage, divorce and conversion. Rabbi and founder Rabbi Seth Farber is especially critical of the database which he says could mean signficant problems for immgrants to Israel whose parents are not listed.

“This new program demonstrates the narrow-mindedness of the Israeli religious establishment, and rather than looking to embrace Jews from around the world, the rabbinate is looking for further reasons to exclude them.”

Rabbi Farber called for a public debate on the database. It will need the approval of the Justice Ministry when work is completed and they may insist that each individual entered must consent to inclusion.

Photo of Tel Aviv by Lilach Daniel via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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