The ITIM religious services advisory group has sued the Religious Services Ministry for NIS 250,000 on behalf of clients who claim local religious councils gave them no choice but to purchase a more expensive marriage certificate than was necessary.
At least six local religious councils, which deal with marriage registration, charged additional fees for several years for supposedly more beautiful marriage certificates, besides the ministry- mandated registration fee, according to ITIM. The fee is NIS 700.
ITIM believes that, in many cases, couples were not given the option of the standard certificate and discovered later that they had been charged for the more expensive document.
Of the six councils confronted, four insisted that the practice is legitimate and that they had offered the standard marriage certificate.
ITIM provided a transcript of a telephone conversation between a woman and the Haifa religious council.
Upon asking how much marriage registration costs, she was told that the fee was “NIS 700 plus NIS 30 for the marriage certificate.”
The ministry’s website clearly states that the NIS 700 fee includes the cost of the marriage certificate.
In another conversation, the Givatayim local religious council insisted that couples pay for a more impressive certificate.
The woman was told that the marriage registration fee was NIS 700 “and the other NIS 60 we charge for the marriage certificate.”
The woman asked if there was a simpler certificate. The clerk responded that the NIS 60 document was the only one available in the Givatayim council, but assured her that it was worth the money.
ITIM found that the additional charge for the “more beautiful” marriage certificates is NIS 30 in Haifa; NIS 50 in Sderot; NIS 60 in Givatayim; and NIS 70 in Bat Yam.
The issue demonstrates the importance of ensuring that local rabbinates adhere to the law when dealing with people seeking its services, ITIM said.
“The marriage registration fee must be uniform for all rabbinates, and it must not be permissible for local religious councils to decide of their own accord and in contravention of the law to charge additional fees to a couple seeking to register for marriage,” the organization said upon filing its lawsuit with the Jerusalem District Court.
“Often local rabbinates take the law into their own hands on a range of issues and, rather than being transparent, simply advance their own interests. These practices are unacceptable in a democratic society, blemish the reputation of traditional Judaism and ultimately cause people to choose alternatives to the rabbinate,” ITIM director and Orthodox Rabbi Seth Farber said.
In response to the lawsuit, the ministry said it would deal with the case through the proper legal channels, adding that “these charges are not legal and the ministry will work for the cessation of the practice.”