The Tel Aviv Rabbinate has removed a clause in its marriage licensing policy that forced resident couples to register for marriage in Tel Aviv. The decision follows pressure from the ITIM advocacy group and the Religious Services Ministry.

Concerns had been raised that the clause was intentionally compelling couples to register for marriage with the Tel Aviv Rabbinate so that it could benefit from the NIS 600 registration fees.

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In March of this year, ITIM began receiving calls through its information hotline from engaged couples who had booked a wedding venue in Tel Aviv, but had subsequently registered for a marriage license in a different city, unaware that this would cause difficulties.

Problems also arose when one of the two was a Tel Aviv resident, since in a situation when marriage registration is conducted in one city and one of the partners is a resident in a different city, a teudat revakut certifying him or her as being single is required in order for the wedding to be approved by the rabbinate.

When one of the partners was a Tel Aviv resident, and therefore required a teudat revakut from the Tel Aviv Rabbinate, the document was issued but included a clause stating, “If the wedding is to take place in Tel Aviv, this certificate is not valid.”

In other words, the situation in which this would be problematic arises when one of the partners is from Tel Aviv but open a marriage file in a rabbinate outside of Tel Aviv, for whatever reason, yet nevertheless want to have their marriage ceremony take place in Tel Aviv. In this scenario, the Tel Aviv resident would be forced to refile the marriage paperwork at the rabbinate in Tel Aviv,therefore costing them an additional second payment of NIS 600.

It should be noted, however, that if both parties are Tel Aviv residents and want to have the marriage take place in that city, they only need a marriage file and don’t need to acquire a teudat revakut.

According to director of ITIM Rabbi Shaul Farber, hundreds of Tel Aviv residents were caught in a trap whereby they had made wedding arrangements in Tel Aviv but could not get a valid teudat revakut because of the clause in the rabbinate’s certificate, and were therefore prevented from getting married in Tel Aviv as they had intended.

These couples were then forced into protracted struggles with the rabbinate where the registration was initially issued in attempts to get their money back, failing which many had to pay the NIS 600 registration fee for a second time to the Tel Aviv Rabbinate.

There are approximately 40,000 weddings every year in Israel, around 9,000 of which take place in Tel Aviv.

“Opening a marriage file ought to be a process which embraces young couples, as it is one of the few encounters secular Jews have with the Orthodox Jewish establishment,” Farber told The Jerusalem Post.

“Instead of embracing the couple and making it easier, the Tel Aviv Rabbinate in this case, and the rabbinate in general, layer on piles of bureaucracy, which distances people from our tradition.”

When the Religious Services Ministry became aware of the issue in May, the ministry’s director of marriages wrote to the Tel Aviv Rabbinate stating that the clause was forcing people to register in Tel Aviv and “completely contravened the directions of the ministry.” The letter requested that the clause be removed within 10 days.

In response, the head of the Tel Aviv Rabbinate’s marriages department, Rabbi Yehuda Landau, claimed in a letter to the Religious Services Ministry that the clause did not contravene ministry directions. Nevertheless, chairman of the Tel Aviv Rabbinate Eldad Mizrachi confirmed to the Post on Tuesday that the offending clause had been removed as of the beginning of this week.

When asked why the removal of the clause had been delayed by five months, the Tel Aviv rabbinate claimed that it had never received a response from the Religious Services Ministry. According to the ministry, Mizrachi simply delayed implementing its demand until this week.

“There’s a battle going on for the future of Jewish life in Israel,” said Rabbi Farber.

“This is one small battlefield where no one else is willing to speak up, and someone has to fight for ordinary Israelis who feel intimidated and antagonized by a rabbinate that is in theory there to help them.”

ITIM stated that the issue is another component in a trend in which the rabbinate “creates bureaucratic problems.”

“There’s no reason people should feel alienated and disenfranchised,” said Farber.

“This clause was illegal, unjustified and denied people their rights, causing unnecessary anguish for hundreds of people. We’re glad that it is now being removed.”

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