Metzger calls on MKs to oppose marriage reform

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi calls on MKs to oppose “Tzohar” marriage reform bill; rabbinate supportive of other efforts

January 7, 2012 20:30
3 minute read.
Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

In a rare move, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger lobbied all 120 members of Knesset on Thursday in a letter calling on them to oppose the so-called “Tzohar Bill” introduced by MK Faina Kirschenbaum (Israel Beiteinu), which seeks to liberalize the marriage-registration process.

Metzger did, however, make reference to other bills that have been proposed to solve the problem, which he said addressed the issue in a more “controlled and responsible way.” He was most likely referring to a bill proposed by MK Otniel Schneller of Kadima.

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The Tzohar bill – so named because it is primarily designed to assist the independent Tzohar rabbinical group in registering and marrying people – would allow couples to register in any town they want. As the law stands, a couple must register in the city of residence of one of the spouses.

Over the past few years, Tzohar has registered marriages primarily from Shoham and the Gush Etzion region, even if couples were not residing there, because rabbis belonging to the organization head the rabbinates there. In November, Tzohar temporarily suspended its wedding service because of a bureaucratic crackdown imposed by the rabbinate.

“The law for opening up regions for registration, in the manner in which it has been proposed, is catastrophic,” Metzger wrote on Thursday to the MKs. “It is likely to cause a terrible situation in which the number of mamzerim [someone born from what Jewish law defines as an illicit relationship, or the descendants of such a person] will increase among the people of Israel, and will create obstacles for marriage for those who are forbidden from marrying,” Rabbi Metzger continued.

Metzger argued that Kirschenbaum’s bill would make it difficult to rely on the rabbinate’s registration process, which is currently accepted by everyone in Israel.

The result of this, Metzger continued, would be “that large and important communities will chose not to rely on the state rabbinate and establish their own genealogical records. So instead of being a melting pot and realizing the vision of the ingathering of exiles, we will become [many small] tributaries who do not marry between each other. The work of 90 years of the rabbinate and more than 100 years of Zionism will, God forbid, be lost.”

“The Knesset is still the legislative body in the State of Israel and not the Chief Rabbinate,” said Kirschenbaum in response. “The bill is good news for couples wanting to marry who will finally be able to chose the manner of registering for marriage.”

A source within the rabbinate speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Friday said, however, that Kirschenbaum’s law was superficial, that the MK had never met with the chief rabbis or anyone in the rabbinate and that she was simply chasing headlines.

On the other hand, the official said, Schneller knows exactly what he’s doing, has consulted with the Chief Rabbinical Council and the chief rabbis and has worked together with them to solve the problem.

Schneller himself told the Post that his bill provides a more comprehensive approach to the marriage-registration issue, citing his proposal that a computerized data system be established to provide information to the rabbinate as to the marital status of the individuals in question when they come to register for marriage. He also said that his bill is supported by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef and that he had consulted with the rabbinate on it.

The Tzohar organization sharply criticized Metzger, saying that “decrees” instituted by him that prevented the majority of Tzohar rabbis from conducting weddings “are the real reason that caused thousands of couples to become distanced from Judaism and to not get married according to the ‘Laws of Moses and Israel.’” “Any claim that changing the law and the opening up of regional registration [regardless of where the couple resides] will cause a split in the nation or an increase in mamzerim is [an attempt to] throw sand in the eyes of the public,” the organization said.

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