A marriage registration reform bill that would allow couples to register for
marriage in the jurisdiction of their choice – regardless of where they reside –
passed its first reading in the Knesset late Monday night.
Schneller (Kadima) proposed the bill, while MK Faina Kirschenbaum’s (Yisrael
Beytenu) separate bill addressing similar issues was passed
The two pieces of legislation have been nicknamed the
“Tzohar Bills,” because they are largely designed to allow the
national-religious Tzohar rabbinical association to register couples for
marriage without being subject to restrictions placed on it by the Chief
Rabbinate and the Ministry of Religious Services.
Tzohar chairman Rabbi
David Stav expressed his thanks to the MKs who voted in favor of the bill and
particularly Schneller and Kirschenbaum. He added that the organization
will do what is required to expedite the passage of the bill through its second
and third readings.
Schneller’s bill passed 25-8 and Kirschenbaum’s
28-8. The eight opposing MKs were all members of the ultra- Orthodox Shas
and United Torah Judaism parties.
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) voiced his
opposition to the bills during the debate and introduced a vote of no confidence
in the government over the legislation, which was nevertheless
Schneller began working on his bill in 2009 and it passed its
preliminary reading in February 2011.
Sources within the rabbinate
previously told The Jerusalem Post that Schneller’s law was preferable, as he
consulted with the Chief Rabbinical Council and the chief rabbis on the details
of the law and worked together with them to solve the problem, whereas the
rabbinate considered Kirschenbaum’s law to be superficial, a claim her office
The issue was put at the top of the public agenda when Tzohar
closed down its marriage service program in November in protest of the Ministry
for Religious Services’ restrictions.
According to the ministry, a couple
must register for marriage in the place of residence of either the bride or the
groom. Tzohar claims that the rabbinate and the ministry imposed restrictions on
its ability to function in order to protect the revenue rabbinate- affiliated
rabbis obtain for conducting wedding ceremonies.
The rabbinate denies
that its rabbis take any form of remuneration for performing weddings, a
practice which is illegal.
Kirschenbaum’s bill was also designed to
circumvent the phenomenon of local rabbinates refusing to register those who
converted under Orthodox auspices in the IDF.
Many ultra-Orthodox rabbis
consider the IDF conversion system to be unreliable and are therefore unwilling
to allow those converts to marry in a Jewish ceremony in Israel.
Tzohar law would also establish a computerized database for the rabbinate’s use
to store a categorical record of all marriages and divorces as well as the
marital status of anyone requesting to register for marriage.
database, proposed by Schneller, will help address chief rabbinate concerns that
the registration process will no longer be reliable as a result of permitting
couples to register outside their city of residence, the MK
Labeling the bill “revolutionary,” Schneller said the legislation
represented “a breakthrough in the relationship between the values of Western
Israeli society and the values of tradition and Jewish law,” following the
Many secular couples prefer to register and get married
with the help of Tzohar – which began its wedding program in 1996 – because of
bureaucratic and other problems often encountered with local rabbinates. In
spite of the restrictions imposed, in recent years Tzohar rabbis have officiated
at 3,000 weddings a year – and over 15,000 in total – approximately 20 percent
of all secular weddings.
The Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Services
Ministry have expressed deep opposition to the bill, claiming that it would
cause a schism between Jewish communities, who would no longer feel free to
marry Jews from other communities, primarily referring to the ultra-
The Chief Rabbinate did not however comment on the passage of
the bill on Tuesday.
In January, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger took
the unusual step of writing to all 120 MKs calling on them to oppose the
Such a law, he said, would cause a decline in the
reliability of the rabbinate marriage process – until now universally accepted –
and would result in the separation of the Jewish people into “small tributaries
that do not marry between each other.”
Tzohar has argued that the
legislation under discussion would not have any such effect and has accused the
Chief Rabbinate of trying to frighten the public with these
Instead, Tzohar claims that the freedom of couples to register
under the auspices of a rabbinate led by a Tzohar rabbi, regardless of their
place of residence, will reduce the numbers of Israelis who go abroad to marry
in a civil ceremony.
Both bills will now be brought to the Knesset
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for preparation for their second and
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