The Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee heard last week that 20 percent of local rabbinates are circumventing a law passed last year to abolish marriage registration zones.
The law, primarily advanced by the Tzohar rabbinical association, is designed to improve the services provided to engaged couples at notoriously unwelcoming and bureaucratic local rabbinates.
The Chief Rabbinate said it did not yet trust the new system to uphold the requirements of Jewish law adequately.
A Tzohar official said the Chief Rabbinate’s stance was designed to preserve its own interests not those of the Jewish people and called on the body to stop making “lame excuses.”
Before the Knesset’s approval of the law in October 2013, Jewish couples could only register with the religious council where they lived. The law is meant to improve the provision of services by increasing competition between local religious councils for the NIS 700 marriage registration fee that couples pay to register.
The Chief Rabbinate has bitterly opposed the reform, however, claiming that local rabbis are in a better position to know about the marital status of residents of their jurisdiction and thus to prevent prohibited marriages.
For this reason, the new law led to the creation of a computerized database for marital status to prevent such problems, but the Chief Rabbinate claims that it is currently insufficient, a stance upheld at the most recent meeting of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate in May.
Although the large majority of local rabbinates are now registering couples for marriage regardless of their place of residence, local rabbinates where the municipal chief rabbi is opposed to the reform are still demanding that couples bring a certificate of marital status from the local rabbinate where they live in order to register, instead of relying on the computer database, effectively circumventing the law.
Speaking at a hearing of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan said that 80 percent of local rabbinates are implementing the new system.
For the purposes of validating unmarried status, the rabbinates in compliance with the law suffice with the testimony provided by friends of the couple that they are single.
A spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate said it was still opposed to the law but that it was working within the new guidelines.
The Chief Rabbinate’s stance was designed to “reduce the injury that the law will cause to halachic marriage,” he said.
“At the moment there is an agreement with the Religious Services Ministry that until the full employment of the database system will allow us access to personal data of the couples that come to get married in a secure and validated way, couples will still need to attend their local rabbinate and ask for certification that they are not married,” the spokesman said.
A source in the ministry told The Jerusalem Post that the concerns of the Chief Rabbinate were “unjustified,” and that the ministry was extremely dissatisfied with the situation.
“The computer database is perfectly capable of identifying any possible double registration of an individual for marriage, and the Chief Rabbinate’s opposition to the new law appears to be without any legitimate basis,” the source said.
A separate source in the ministry said they were unaware of any agreement on the issue with the Chief Rabbinate.
Nachman Rosenberg, the executive vice president of Tzohar, said, “To the best of our knowledge, Deputy Minister Ben-Dahan is working to ensure the implementation of the ‘Tzohar Law’ across Israel. The Chief Rabbinate needs to stop seeking lame excuses to delay the inevitable. It would be better for the future of the Jewish people and the Jewish state, if the Chief Rabbinate focuses on effective methods to promote halachic Jewish marriage, instead of on self-preservation and corrupt politics.”