Israeli Family Law as a Civil-Religious Hybrid

A Cautionary Tale of Fatal Attraction

Marriage in the United States changed overnight when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. In response, many religious conservatives are seeking to abolish civil marriage and fill the regulatory vacuum with substitute regimes, including making marriage an exclusively religious zone. Another country’s experience, however, indicates that this privatizing of marriage law would pose particular perils to some of women’s hard-won marital rights and jeopardize children’s welfare. This Article explores a unique case study of privatized family law in a liberal democratic state in the Western world: Israel. With an insider’s perspective, I argue that the Israeli family law system, a hybrid creature of civil and religious legal elements, serves as a cautionary tale counseling against any state placing too much faith in religious marriage because the system creates what we might expect of a dysfunctional family: bitter rivalry, instability, overcorrection, and unintended consequences that fall most heavily on Israel’s women and children.

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