As far as I know marriages between jews and non jews are prohibited in Israel. Even Israel citizens have to go to Cyprus to marry.

How did this law come into existence? Is there an enforceable international law that regulates such laws?

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    The only international laws that apply almost globally are those in regards to war crime based on international treaties (Geneva Convention, Hague and so on). Non signatory powers are not bound by them though...
    – Trish
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 8:17
  • One possible angle at an answer (if this is reopened) is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16, which asserts the right to marry "without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion". Wikipedia suggests that at least some commentators consider the UDHR part of "customary international law" and applicable at least to UN members, which Israel is. Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 18:00
  • There's also the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a signatory. Article 23 says the right to marry "shall be recognized". It does not have the "without limitation due to religion" wording, but Article 2 says parties shall ensure to all individuals the rights listed in the Covenant, "without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion." Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 18:02
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    It is of course true that there are not many ways to enforce on a state its supposed obligations under international law, other than diplomatic / economic / military pressure from other states, which those states have complete discretion as to whether to apply. So the question of whether Israel's policy violates the rights I mentioned is largely theoretical. Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 18:07
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    There seems to be a lot of overlap between this and law.stackexchange.com/questions/53747/… - in fact I thought it was the same question and couldn't figure out where my earlier comment had gone. I think it should be made clear how they differ. Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 18:12

4 Answers 4


I have to challenge the question's frame in this answer. To say that such marriages are prohibited implies that they are forbidden. But there is nothing in Israel's law that forbids them.

Israel does not have any legal framework for state officials to officiate marriages. It does, however, recognize as legitimate all marriages performed by all clergy and all marriages (including civil marriages) performed abroad.

There is no prohibition, or any criminal or civil penalty, for Israeli citizens, Jewish or not, who marry each other in any ceremony not approved by clergy.

This does provide a practical impediment to interfaith marriages. But it also provides a practical impediment to marriages of people of same faiths who do not wish to participate in any religious ceremonies. While this point may seem tangential, it's not in Israel because a large portion of the Israeli Jews are staunchly non-religious.

However, this practical impediment is not a prohibition because, at the risk of repeating myself, it's not a legal impediment.


Westphalian Sovereignty

Israel has decided that this is the law in Israel and they are the only one who gets a say in this.

The concept of the modern nation-state can trace its origins to the Treaty of Westphalia (possibly - there is disagreement among historians and political scientists but for our purposes we'll just let them get on with it) which ended the 30-years war. This was a complex and dynamic conflict of which one of the contentious issues was who had the right to determine the laws in a particular territory, particularly religious laws - the local prince/king/duke etc. or the Emporer. Long story short - it wasn't the Emporer.

This is embodied in Article 2(1) of the UN charter:

The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

That is, Israel and only Israel gets to decide what the law is in Israel. Which is to say, that what the law is in Israel is down to internal Israeli politics. Israel is a democracy so this is down to democratic politics.

International law only allows involvement when the actions of a sovereign state (UN member or otherwise) infringe on the peace and stability of other sovereign states. I realise that there is a whole area of discussion here but suffice it to say that the internal operations of the UN are political rather than legal. However, laws on marriage in Israel seem unlikely to have international peace and security implications.

  • Which country on Earth does this answer not apply to? Just those badly dependent. The main principle — that noone is to tell a sovereign country what laws it should have — goes without saying (otherwise the OP simply does not understand what a sovereign country is). Hence the details as to how exactly that principle is implemented (as given in this answer) are irrelevant. The rest — why Israel has such laws and why noone would attempt to dictate it what laws it should have whereas some other countries get dictated — is pure politics.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 6:47
  • So basically people are unprotected?
    – MindYB
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 8:07
  • People are not unprotected. They can elect a party that will change the law.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 17:56
  • @gnasher729 I suppose we all know that it is not always feasible.
    – MindYB
    Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 19:51

There are two "international law" courts, the ICC and ICJ. The ICC is generally for crimes, for example, it is currently investigating for Israel for "war crimes" against Palestine. The ICJ makes more sense here, as it can deal with individuals whose rights are supposedly being violated by states. But member states need to first accept jurisdiction. Israel hasn't committed to in every case, so they could just decline the case. But it wouldn't even go anywhere in the first place.

One could imagine the perspective of what a rights violation is expanding. Maybe in a few centuries. Or, more likely, due to demographic changes, the Western perspective of strong personal rights will be relegated to the pages of history and it will never happen.

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    Also, the ICJ primarily handles disputes between sovereign states (often boundary disputes) and not disputes raised by individuals vis-a-vis their own governments.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 1:52
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    Oh yeah you're right, after doing a search on it, I probably should have, actually, discussed the United Nations Human Rights Committee rather than the ICC and ICJ. That is more likely the proper international forum for an individual complaint of a rights violation.
    – Oliver
    Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 2:06

The law originated under the Ottoman Empire from a general principle of Islamic law regarding dhimmi, non-Muslims in a Muslim state subject to that state's legal protection. Where Shari`ah governs certain aspects of life (marriage, inheritance, contract) for Muslims, each religious community can have their own system of laws. The practice dates back to the the Middle Ages, and aspects of it are centuries old in the Ottoman Empire. Put simply, Christian marriage law was that Christians marry Christians, Jewish law was that Jews marry Jews, and so on. There simply was no provision for mixed marriages. This law was not changed after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, when Britain had the mandate to run Palestine, and Israel likewise has not changed this law. It is encoded in Art. 51-56 of The Palestine Order in Council, which gives jurisdiction to the various religious courts over their respective religious communities. The law for Jews was rewritten in 1953 by the Knesset, but basically still says that marriage and divorce of Jews shall be performed in accordance with Jewish religious law, and under Jewish law (in the Talmud), there is no marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew. However, in principle a marriage between a Muslim man and a Christian woman in Israel should be possible because it is not forbidden in Islam, nor in Christianity.

  • "in accordance with Jewish religious law" essentially relegates marriages to religious ceremonies, does it not? So Israel recognizes marriages officiated by clergy but does have any provisions for state officials to officiate marriages.
    – grovkin
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 10:21
  • All marriages are recognized. All marriages performed in Israel are religious.
    – user6726
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 14:06
  • I know that. There was a typo in my comment. Sorry, I was writing it on the phone. I meant to say "does not have any provisions for state officials to officiate marriages."
    – grovkin
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 3:29

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