A Jewish couple weds in Jerusalem. .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
More than half of municipal religious councils are insisting on a policy designed to circumvent one of the major religious bureaucracy reforms that the outgoing 19th Knesset approved a year ago, according to a religious services lobbying group.
In November 2013, the Knesset approved legislation that abolished marriage registration districts, meaning that a couple could register for marriage wherever they wanted.
Previously, a couple had to register in the place of residence of one of the spouses.
However, numerous allegations and reports have been made in recent years of bureaucratic and religious obstructionism at certain municipal religious councils when couples go to open a marriage file.
The purpose of abolishing marriage registration districts was to increase competition between municipal religious councils for the NIS 700 registration fee in order to improve the service provided.
The law states that a couple is entitled to register for marriage by any marriage registrar “regardless of their place of residence or where the wedding will be performed.”
However, the Chief Rabbinate fiercely opposed the reform, claiming that local rabbis are in a better position to know about the marital status of residents of their jurisdiction and thus to prevent prohibited marriages, despite the Religious Services Ministry establishing a computerized database in conjunction with the law to avoid such problems.
As reported by The Jerusalem Post back in June, municipal chief rabbis opposing the law began instituting a policy demanding that couples bring a certificate of single marital status, a required document within the registration process, from the local rabbinate where they live in order to register, instead of relying on the computer database.
Chief municipal rabbi of Beersheba, Rabbi Yehuda Deri who is a member of the council and brother of Shas chairman Arye Deri, said in March, “We will not honor the law, it is preferable that the law for abolishing marriage registration districts be canceled.”
In addition, obtaining a certificate of single marital status from a local religious council without opening a marriage registration file in the same council entails a NIS 150 charge, separate from the NIS 700 paid to the council where the couple registered.
This policy effectively circumvents the law since couples are still tied to the municipal religious council where they live and it hinders increased competition between them, which was the purpose of the law.
ITIM – Resources and Advocacy for Jewish Life, a religious services advisory and lobbying group, recently conducted a telephone study and anonymously called 75 municipal religious councils, out of 132 in total around the country, to ask if it was possible to register for marriage if someone did not live in the council’s jurisdiction.
Out of the 75 called, ITIM said more than 50 percent stated they required a certificate of single marital status from the religious council in the couple’s region or city of residence.
ITIM said among those insisting on this policy were religious councils in major cities such as Beersheba, Jerusalem, Holon, Tiberias, Eilat and Safed, and accused the Chief Rabbinate of guiding religious councils to insist on this stance.
“Instead of welcoming the change in the law and making things easier for couples registering for marriage, the rabbinate is creating bureaucratic difficulties that have no justification administratively or in Jewish law,” said ITIM director and Orthodox Rabbi Seth Farber.
The Chief Rabbinate in response acknowledged it was instructing municipal religious councils to adopt this policy, insisting that it was authorized to do by virtue of its authority according to the law.
“The requirement to present a certificate of single marital status before registering for marriage was a decision taken by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, after the Chief Rabbinate’s legal adviser determined that this requirement is entirely legal,” the Chief Rabbinate said.
A spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate said the certificate for single marital status was a means of determining a person’s status as Jewish for people who immigrated to Israel after 1990, and the Chief Rabbinate “would not compromise” when seeking to prevent interfaith marriages.
“That people can only get married in Israel through religious authorities is not to please the haredim, but has been repeatedly chosen by the people and government of Israel as the only way of preventing assimilation, and the only Jewish state in the world has a responsibility to prevent this phenomenon.”