The so-called “Tzohar bill” to abolish regional marriage registration districts
was passed into law Monday evening, ending a long-running feud between the
Tzohar national-religious rabbinical association and the state’s religious
The legislation, which passed its second and third
readings in the Knesset plenum Monday night, allows couples to open a marriage
registration file with the local rabbinate of any district or city they wish,
regardless of where they themselves reside.
Until now, registration had
to be conducted in the municipal jurisdiction of one of the partners of an
engaged couple, limiting their options in choosing a professionally run
rabbinate and even the rabbi they would like to marry them.
debate preceded the passage of the bill, with MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah
Judaism accusing Deputy Religious Services Minister MK Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit
Yehudi) of not caring about the Torah, and alleging that the bill would make the
marriage registration process unreliable.
“You have disengaged from the
Torah of Israel and you will be responsible when there is a disengagement from
Judea and Samaria,” shouted Gafni from the Knesset podium.
answered angrily, saying that religious commitment was not only the preserve of
Gafni and his colleagues in the ultra-Orthodox parties. The Bayit Yehudi MK
added that a computerized database containing maritalstatus records, that is now
operative, would ensure the reliability of the system.
“You aren’t the ones to teach us religious
dedication and I say this with full humility,” said the deputy minister
Tzohar described the passage of the law as the “completion of a
revolution in the process of marriage registration,” which would put marriage
registrars who don’t act in an appropriate manner out of work.
organization has argued that the regional marriage registration districts
perpetuate an inefficient, hostile and obstructionist system. It alienates
secular Israelis from religion and the religious establishment.
was also promoted by Tzohar because it alleged that the 600 rabbis belonging to
its rabbinical association were prevented by the Chief Rabbinate and the
Religious Services Ministry, formerly run by Shas, from gaining licenses to
The organization claimed that this stance was
motivated by a desire within the religious establishment to protect weddings as
a source of income for Chief- Rabbinate-approved rabbis who, Tzohar alleges,
frequently and illegally charge couples for performing weddings.
Chief Rabbinate has strongly denied this charge, but has continued to oppose the
bill. In August, shortly after the election of Chief Rabbis David Lau and
Yitzhak Yosef, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate again publicly voiced
opposition to the bill.
The basis for the rabbinate’s opposition, as well
as that of the haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, is the claim that
the legislation will make the marriage registration process less reliable and
lead to the inadvertent marriage of people who cannot marry according to Jewish
law. Chief Rabbi Lau and the council have argued that municipal rabbis are
better able to investigate the marital-status history of someone seeking to open
a marriage file when the registration process is carried out in the district in
which at least one of the partners resides.
Proponents of the bill have
countered that a computer database containing comprehensive information on
citizens’ marital status that has recently been established by the Religious
Services Ministry circumvents such a problem.
In addition, four senior
rabbis from the conservative wing of the national-religious movement called on
the four Tekuma MKs who are part of the Bayit Yehudi faction to oppose the
However, the so-called Tekuma rabbis were principally complaining
about the fact that they had not been consulted on the law by the
In the final vote, 11 of Bayit Yehudi’s 12 MKs voted in favor of
the bill. MK Orit Struck of the faction’s Tekuma party was absent.
bill passed by 57 votes to 14 with one abstention.
Tzohar and the Chief Rabbinate and Religious Services Ministry came to a head in
August 2011, when then-religious services minister and Shas MK Ya’acov Margi
imposed a strict limit on the number of registrations that could be conducted in
the Tzohar-friendly marriage registration districts, thereby de facto severely
limiting the number of people who could take advantage of Tzohar’s wedding
Tzohar shut down it’s wedding service temporarily in protest,
promoting outrage at the rabbinate and ministry from broad swathes of the
political spectrum. Margi eventually backed down and an administrative solution
was worked out that has been in place ever since.
But Tzohar decided to
seek legislative security for its flagship program to guarantee its ability to
continue operating in the future.
Tzohar initially set up its freewedding
service as a way of easing the bureaucratic process for couples, especially
those from the non-religious sector who are unfamiliar with the complex and
oftentimes unwelcoming religious bureaucracy.
It has performed 80,000
weddings since its program was established in 1995, including 4,000 in
Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav enthusiastically welcomed the
passage of the bill, saying it would bring about competition between marriage
registrars and local rabbinates for the NIS 800 registration fee, “which will
change the way in which engaged couples are treated and lead to less people
Former MK Otniel Schneller also responded saying,
“Opening marriage registration in Israel is opening hearts and minds and
protecting marriage as an integral part of Israeli and Jewish society.”