Between Social and Legal Legitimations: Weddings outside the Rabbinate in Israel

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This article examines the case of Israeli Jews who choose to marry in ceremonies outside the state-authorized rabbinical establishment. Formally speaking, these private marriages are not recognized by the State. We focus on the ways in which these marriages become legitimate. The study is based on interviews with forty such couples. Our findings show that these couples tend to attach far more weight to achieving social legitimacy for their marriage than legal recognition and legitimacy. While most sociological and legal analyses of these concepts do not distinguish between the two types of legitimacy, our study reveals a more nuanced and complex interplay in which these processes are perceived as separate (by the couples) while, in fact, they are interconnected. We show that couples are able to experience their weddings as socially legitimate due to the social recognition of their weddings as “traditional.” Additionally, their de facto relations as cohabitant partners grant them similar rights to those of formally married couples in the eyes of the State. Thus, our study demonstrates that, ironically, those who challenge the State’s marriage establishment rely on the very same elements that constitute formal Jewish marriages in Israel.

Original languageEnglish
Article number240
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • Israel
  • Rabbinate
  • legitimation
  • private marriages


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