'Tzohar bills' approved for first plenum reading
Legislation would make it easier for national-religious rabbis to marry couples in any city or municipality.
Couple getting married (illustrative) Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Sunday approved two so-called “Tzohar
bills” designed to enable the association of national-religious rabbis – who are
considered somewhat more liberal than other Orthodox rabbis – to more easily
perform wedding ceremonies.
The legislation will now move to the plenum
for their first readings.
The bills, one initiated by MK Otniel Schneller
(Kadima) and the other by MK Faina Kirshenbaum (Israel Beiteinu), would allow
couples to register for marriage in the city or municipal jurisdiction of their
choice, regardless of where they reside, something which at present is
technically prohibited by law.
“The time has come to change the current
situation,” MK Isaac Herzog (Labor), who was standing in as committee chair for
MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), said during the meeting. “The bill is better
than the current situation in which couples are traveling to Cyprus to get
In addition to freeing couples to register where they please,
Schneller’s bill requires the establishment of a computerized database through
which the Religious Services Ministry will be able to quickly check the marital
status according to Jewish law of the couple wishing to register.
committee voted four to three to approve the bills, with Herzog, Schneller,
Kirshenbaum and MK Uri Orbach (Bayit Yehudi) in favor, and MKs Uri Maklev
(United Torah Judaism), Avraham Michaeli (Shas) and Michael Ben-Ari (National
Maklev said the bill was being advanced in an
“underhanded manner, under the cover of darkness and without appropriate debate
of the devastating consequences.” He and other opponents were concerned that
Tzohar rabbis would be more lenient than other rabbis when it comes to deciding
if a person is permitted by Jewish law to marry another Jew..
Rabbinate and the Religious Services Ministry have also been extremely critical
of these bills, claiming they will create a situation in which large sections of
the Jewish population will lose faith in the rabbinate’s marital registration
process. This in turn would cause a schism among Jews, many of whom would not
feel free to marry other Jews.
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate does,
however, prefer Schneller’s bill, saying he had consulted with Chief Rabbis Yona
Metzger and Shlomo Amar, as well as with Shas party mentor and former chief
rabbi Ovadia Yosef, for several years to address the complexities of the issue
and seek solutions. Nevertheless, Rabbi Yosef Shalosh of the South Sharon
Regional Council claimed during the committee hearing that both Amar and Yosef
were opposed to both bills.
Sources within the Chief Rabbinate have
criticized Kirshenbaum’s bill, saying she jumped on a populist bandwagon when
the dispute between Tzohar and the rabbinate publicly erupted, and that her bill
was superficial and problematic.
A spokesman for the MK denied these
claims and said the emphasis of her bill was simply different, explaining that
it focused on solving a problem in which certain rabbinical groups refuse to
recognize converts who convert through the army and therefore refuse to register
them for marriage.
Currently, a couple must register for marriage in the
place of residence of either the bride or the groom. Because of restrictions the
Chief Rabbinate enacted several years ago – which Tzohar claims were designed to
allow local rabbinates to disqualify the group’s rabbis from conducting weddings
– the organization began registering couples in Shoham, where its chairman,
Rabbi David Stav, is chief rabbi.
Many secular couples prefer to register
and get married with the help of Tzohar because of bureaucratic and other
problems often encountered with local rabbinates.
In August last year,
the Religious Services Ministry clamped down on the large number of couples
registering with Tzohar in Shoham, near Petah Tikva, without living there.
Tzohar shut down its service in protest, and the subsequent outcry led Religious
Services Minister Yaakov Margi to back down.
Since then, the organization
has stepped up efforts to secure its ability to function freely through