The State of Israel is committed — according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — to enable every “men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, [to] have the right to marry and to found a family”.
Commitment is nice, but reality is more complex. The Jewish Orthodox political parties who hold the government captive – would not consider the marriage of a “formal Jew” with a non-Jew, God forbid. “Formal” – because in modern Israel, every person has a “religion”, whether he/she knows about it or not. It’s actually written in the Ministry of Interior’s database.
To appear “equal”, there are some similar rules for non Jews as well. For some couples it’s simply not possible to formally marry in Israel. To make things worse, it’s not that easy to “formally” change your religion, especially if you want to become a “formal Jew”. The process is long and exhausting, as it is again controlled by the religious parties.
Recently it became possible to be formally registered as “having no religion”. Alas, it does not help. The political map gave the treatment of all marriage and divorce issues to… religious courts, and they run a separate database, in which you’re Jewish even if you think you’re not.
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Giving things in the hands of religious courts has one more undesirable side effect: You must go through the required religious rituals in order to formally get married. With Jews, for example, this means an unequal ceremony, with archaic texts that imply man’s ownership of the woman and include a large set of thanks to the Jewish God. Not very surprisingly, many people who formally can — prefer not go through this process.
There are ways around this frustrating situation. Israel is obliged to recognize the marriage of people in other countries, which opens up many new (and potentially expensive) possibilities. Here too the government does its best to prevent you from get wed the way you prefer. For example, in such cases it will not issue the famous “Nulla Osta” document, required in some other places as a certificate for being single. Some but not all.
The most popular option for young Israelis nowadays is to travel to nearby Cyprus (20 minute flight from Tel Aviv) and marry there. A big industry of “Cyprus marriage” has been established over the years. Prague – the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic – is also a preferred destination, though the flight is a bit more expensive.
Other popular options include not getting married at all. The status of a “publicly known couple” has also become formal in Israel during the years, many times complemented by a formal financial agreement.
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Thus, we have missiles against missiles, we launch satellites to space, but we need to fly hundreds of miles in order to get married without praising God. Many times to get married at all.