The Knesset plenum .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A signature piece of legislation, known as the Tzohar Law, approved by the previous government looks set to be implemented by the Chief Rabbinate, two and a half years after it was passed into law by the Knesset.
The Tzohar Law was designed to guarantee the ability of Tzohar, a rabbinical association of national-religious rabbis, to maintain its marriage registration program, and to stimulate competition among local rabbinates, thereby increasing their effectiveness.
The law states that a couple is able to register for marriage in any local rabbinate it wishes to, thereby creating competition with different rabbinates for the NIS 700 marriage registration fee.
Implementation of the law has however been blocked by the Chief Rabbinate, which instructed local rabbinates to produce a certificate of single status from the religious council in their place of residence, costing an extra NIS 170, and to all intents and purposes circumventing the law.
On Monday, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate voted to approve a computerized database that will obviate the need to present a certificate of single status when registering for marriage. This will allow couples to register for marriage anywhere the wish, as the Tzohar law intended.
The impetus for the law was originally an attempt in 2011 by the Chief Rabbinate to shut down Tzohar’s marriage registration program, by limiting the number of couples the organization could register through its central office.
The failure to implement the Tzohar Law created tensions between the organization and the Chief Rabbinate, with Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav accusing the body last year of seeking to preserve its power instead of improving religious services. On Monday, Tzohar praised the rabbinate’s decision.
It pointed out however that the Chief Rabbinate had previously warned that the adoption of the law would create “a disaster for the Jewish people,” but that it is now clear that the legislation would make it easier for couples to marry.
“We believe that these steps will help increase the number of young people getting married in accordance with Jewish law through Tzohar and the different local rabbinates.
Tzohar says it helps register for marriage some 5,000 couples a year.
The ITIM religious services advisory and lobbying group, which helped draw up and advance the Tzohar Law, also welcomed the decision. The organization also conducted a legal battle after the law was passed to have it implemented, something the group says was an important factor in Monday’s decision.
“ITIM is pleased that the issue of singleness certificates is now moot,” said organization director Rabbi Seth Farber.
“Though the Chief Rabbinate zig-zagged on this issue for more than two years, insisting at one point that these documents were critical, the pressure on the rabbinate - including from the attorney general’s office, enabled this decision to take hold. We commend Rabbi Lau on this decision as well as on his recent efforts to help Agunot [women who cannot get a divorce, and hope that he will see this not as a crowning achievement but rather as a first step toward reaching out to Israel’s disenfranchised young couples.”