Torah For Today! This week: Civil partnerships

Torah For Today! This week: Civil partnerships

Rabbi Ariel Abel looks at the topical issue of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan's battle to have their civil partnership legally recognised

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan

Photo credit: Charlotte Ball/PA Wire
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan Photo credit: Charlotte Ball/PA Wire

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan do not want to get married – but they want all the legal protection it affords. They have now taken their case to the Supreme Court to fight for the right of heterosexual couples to enter a civil partnership. What does the Torah say about this?

Genesis states that man should leave his parents, “cling” to his wife and be “one flesh”.

This indicates a unique relationship, which describes a partnership that is carnal, but with no hint of the institutionalisation of marriage.

During the era of the forefathers, Isaac takes Rebecca as a wife into the tent of his mother, Sarah, and after that loves her; here, the setting up of a marital home precedes even emotional attachment.

The Talmud bases Jewish marriage upon the “taking” or acquisition of rights to a spouse, actively distancing itself from spousal unity as essentially carnal.

The modern Jewish wedding ceremony is therefore both contractual and about home-making, the latter symbolised by the wedding canopy.

In Judaism, civil partnership is closer to pilagshut, or Jewish concubinage, an option where marriage is not a feasible option and a Beth Din must agree to the partnership and register it.

In English law, civil marriage is a legal partnership, while the requirement of divorce is a throwback to the religious roots of marriage.

By contrast, civil partnership is totally secular in nature and only requires dissolution of partnership.

Although marriages are always more romantic, if a heterosexual couple are unsure about how far they want to go in cementing their togetherness, a civil partnership is certainly a good option to take, if nothing else as a first step.

There is no point in a greater commitment when unsure.

ω Ariel Abel is Padre to HM Forces and rabbi of Liverpool Princes Road Synagogue

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