The national-religious Tzohar rabbinical association announced on Thursday night
that it has come to an agreement with the Chief Rabbinate, which will lift
restrictions on rabbis associated with the organization from conducting
Tzohar, which provides a free-of charge wedding service
targeted at non-religious Jews, temporarily closed its flagship program back in
November in protest of constraints it said the rabbinate imposed, limiting its
ability to function.
This move prompted an outburst of public and
political anger aimed at the religious establishment, leading to an appeal to
the High Court of Justice on behalf of Tzohar, as well as the initiation of
legislation in the Knesset to remove one of the main bureaucratic obstacles to
the organization’s operations.
Dialogue was however initiated between
Tzohar and the rabbinate and, as reported by The Jerusalem Post last month,
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav met in
secret at Metzger’s home in May in order to reach a compromise deal on the
The agreement announced on Thursday concerns the criteria that
rabbis are required to fulfill to be granted permission to conduct
According to Rabbi Metzger’s spokesman, the rabbinate agreed to
compromise on the criteria, and Tzohar promised in return to work toward having
the High Court appeal withdrawn and the legislation stopped.
categorically denied this claim, telling the Post, “We were not requested, nor
did we agree, to intervene in the current legislation proposed in favor of
The rabbinate was extremely concerned about the legislation,
which address a wider bureaucratic issue, claiming the proposals would lead to a
situation in which ultra-Orthodox communities would no longer rely on the
rabbinate marriage system – thereby splitting Orthodox Jewry in Israel into
Rabbi Metzger said he was more concerned about the
possibility that the proposed Knesset bills would pass – rather than with the
possibility that the High Court appeal would be accepted – because “the previous
criteria did not in any way discriminate against Tzohar rabbis.”
more concerned that the Knesset legislation would lead to the problem of
mamzerut [status of children born out of wedlock to a married woman] and the
division of the Jewish people, so we were accommodating in order to rescue the
situation,” he said.
A Tzohar spokesman denied that the organization was
working to have the proposed legislation withdrawn. Rabbinate representatives
were not available for comment on the agreement.
Until now, community
rabbis and deans of yeshivot not officially employed by a local religious
council needed permission from the council to conduct weddings.
claimed that many rabbis affiliated with religious councils accept payment for
marrying people, a practice not permitted by law, and that Tzohar rabbis were
refused permission to marry couples who approached them because the religious
councils were protecting this source of income.
The rabbinate strenuously
denies these claims.
The Tzohar chairman called the agreement “an
historic achievement,” and thanked Metzger for his “tireless work and
cooperation leading to the agreement, and [Sephardi] Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar,
who was responsive and encouraging the whole way.”
“This is a victory for
reason and fairness,” Stav added.
“This agreement between Tzohar and the
rabbinate opens a new page in [the] relationship between with the
national-religious movement in general and Tzohar in particular.”
also thanked the Council of the Chief Rabbinate for supporting the dialogue and
approving the new criteria.
According to the new criteria, communal
rabbis will be required to: provide a certificate of ordination from the
rabbinate; pass a test on the Jewish laws of marriage through the rabbinate; and
be approved by three chief municipal rabbis, who serve as the head of
communities of at least 30 families.
Tzohar established its wedding
project in 1996, to reach out to secular Israelis who had negative experiences
with the rabbinate, and provide them with the opportunity to have a rabbi more
sympathetic to their level of religious observance marry them – without charge
or expectation of any other kind of remuneration.
restrictions, Tzohar says that it has nevertheless managed to perform 3,000
weddings a year, approximately 20 percent of all secular weddings, according to
the organization’s figures: “Through what we’ve achieved here, we will be able
to draw the nation of Israel from all communities and sectors closer to the
traditions of Israel – as we have been doing until now and will continue to do
in the future.”