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Rabbis Put Thousands Of Israelis on Marriage Blacklist

December 22, 1994

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Uri Sasson had been married for years when an anonymous phone caller alerted rabbis that he was the brother of his wife’s first husband.

The nation’s rabbinical courts disapproved of the union and Sasson’s daughter was later denied a marriage permit. Ashamed, he tried to kill himself three years ago.

Sasson, 47, of Tel Aviv, is one of an estimated 10,000 Israelis appearing on a wedding blacklist stored at the Religious Affairs Ministry, civil rights activists charged Wednesday.

Led by a Cabinet minister, the activists called on the government to override the Orthodox rabbis who have a monopoly on issuing Jewish marriage licenses, and to permit civil marriage in Israel.

Rabbinical officials said the allegations were exaggerated, admitting only to 4,000 cases of Israelis and immigrants who may not marry because they don’t meet criteria set by Jewish law.

The Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron said that most cases were ″small problems″ and that ″only a minority are really big tragedies.″

Anat Hoffman, a left-wing member of Jerusalem’s city council, said she knew of 10,000 names on the blacklist, adding that ″some of them don’t even know they appear.″

The cases range from women lacking proper divorce papers to descendants of sinners dating back thousands of years. Also barred from marriage are children conceived during a married woman’s illicit affair.

In the case of the Sassons, Uri’s marriage to his wife, Suham, some 30 years ago was disqualified after the anonymous phone tip, said Rabbi Uri Regev, a liberal or Reform rabbi who counsels the couple.

Jewish law permits a woman to marry a husband’s brother only if she is widowed.

″It’s really a Greek tragedy,″ said Rabbi Moshe Zemer, a colleague of Regev’s working on the Sasson case.

The issue grabbed headlines this week with the case of Shoshana Hadad, a woman in northern Israel. She has been denied a marriage certificate for a wedding performed 12 years ago, because of a family sin committed some 2,500 years ago.

Religious officials said that Hadad was descended from a clan barred from marrying Cohens, because an ancestor from this priesthood clan had illegally married a divorcee.

Still, they said there were many others on the blacklist that could have their names struck from it by an appeal.

″The rulings are never final, and one can always appeal,″ Religious Affairs Ministry director Zeev Rosenberg told Israel Radio.

Communications Minister Shulamit Aloni cited cases of weddings called off ″at the last minute″ and charged the lists were constantly growing.

She said the problem affected many of the more than half million immigrants from the former Soviet Union since 1989. About a fifth of them are considered non-Jewish and therefore unable to marry Jews in Israel.

Aloni said the only solution was to permit civil marriages in Israel. Such marriages have previously been denied as part of an agreement with religious parties in Parliament who have substantial political clout.

Many Israelis bypass the Orthodox monopoly by marrying abroad. But civil rights campaigners argue that is a solution not everyone can afford.

″The lack of an alternative, combined with the fundamentalism of the rabbinate, is a source of misery and undermines Israel as a modern democracy,″ Regev said.

Bakshi-Doron said the list was a way to ensure the continuity of Jewish heritage.

″It is the most reasonable thing to do if we want to give a service to all Jews who want to marry by Jewish law,″ he said. ″We want to keep our tradition.″

The director of Naamat, Israel’s largest women’s organization, said the group would take the issue up with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

″We demand a response from the prime minister ... to explain why in the state of Israel there are people without the most basic right of raising a family,″ director Ofra Friedman said.

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