It was an opinion from Israel’s top judge that American Conservative Jews would have preferred to read in a judicial ruling. But it was enough to put a smile on their faces.
"The lack of civil marriage in Israel is a major violation of human rights," Supreme Court president Aharon Barak told more than 30 members of United Synagogue’s Project Reconnect, an organization of former United Synagogue Youth members, during a group visit to Israel last week.
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, said it is "one thing for an academic or a member of the Knesset to call for it, but for the leader of the judiciary to call for it is an important step."
He said it was particularly noteworthy now because Barak is expected to retire soon.
"People who know him regard him as a person of high integrity," Rabbi Epstein said. "I don’t know what kind of political clout he has, but he still has moral clout. As far as I’m concerned, it is the moral clout that is more important. This will be won on that moral clout issue."
The Jerusalem Post called Barak’s comment a "potential bombshell."
Under Israeli law, the Orthodox religious courts control all marriages and interfaith marriages are banned.
During the previous term of the Knesset, the secular Shinui Party helped to establish a special committee to examine the marriage issue. But the committee dissolved and a proposed law drafted by Shinui to permit civil marriages died after the party withdrew from the government.
But the issue is still being kept alive and Israel’s High Court will likely be asked to consider a petition to compel Israel’s Interior Ministry to recognize the marriage of an Israeli couple united in a civil marriage.