Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, who holds the Religious Services portfolio, presented a number of reforms in May to change the way religious services are provided to citizens by the state, which Bennett referred to as “revolutionary.”

One of those reforms, which will abolish regional marriage registration jurisdictions, was passed on Monday.

Until now, couples interested in marrying had to register in their city or town of residence. This often created problems when the local rabbi, appointed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, happened to be more conservative-minded in his rulings and refused to recognize the Jewishness of one – or both – of the prospective husband and wife.

Even if the rabbi of a neighboring town or city, also appointed by the Chief Rabbinate, was more lenient and willing to recognize the Jewishness of the two, the couple could not register with him because they were not in the more lenient rabbi’s jurisdiction. These more lenient city rabbis were usually associated with the Tzohar rabbinic organization. Therefore, the legislation passed Monday was dubbed the “Tzohar bill.”

Cases where a city rabbi refused to marry couples when one of the two was a former Soviet Union immigrant who had converted to Judaism received the most media coverage.

Often these conversions had been performed by special rabbinic conversion courts in the IDF or by the Conversion Authority in the Prime Minister’s Office and there was a specific directive issued by the Chief Rabbinate that city rabbis were obligated to recognize these conversions.

Essentially, Bennett’s “revolutionary” reform is nothing more than a loophole that allows conservative-minded city rabbis to continue refusing to recognize certain individuals as Jewish or as eligible for marriage, while other, more lenient, rabbis will be permitted to extend their jurisdiction throughout the country. Inevitably, more lenient, open-minded rabbis will be swamped with marriage registration paperwork while their more conservative- minded peers will continue to receive the same salaries from the state, but will provide fewer religious services to citizens.

This is no solution. Indeed, the “Tzohar bill” actually perpetuates the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly of religious services by alleviating pressure for real a reform.

Bennett attempted to claim that the “Tzohar bill” would introduce competition to religious services.

“As with competition in any other field, the ‘captive’ consumer public will be freed,” Bennett said. “Competition will bring improved service, as any marriage registrar who does not become more efficient and provide the best and most welcoming service won’t remain in the rabbinic ‘market.’” But this is not at all true. All city rabbis – including those who do not offer welcoming services – will continue to receive a salary from the state no matter what.

The way to really introduce competition to religious services is by dismantling the Chief Rabbinate altogether.

The state should not provide salaries to city rabbis of any kind – lenient or conservative-minded. Rather, each individual should have the freedom to choose his or her own rabbi.

As long as the status quo dictates that the State of Israel recognizes only Orthodox weddings, only Orthodox rabbis will be allowed to register couples for marriage.

These rabbis will be given access to the database set up by the Religious Services Ministry in order to determine that both bride and groom are Jewish in accordance with Halacha. The couples will pay the rabbi a fee agreed upon by the two sides and the state will have no say in the matter.

Such an arrangement protects the autonomy of rabbis.

No rabbi will feel pressured to rule against his conscience because he receives a salary from the state. Nor will the state be tempted to intervene in rabbis’ decisions. Meanwhile, tax payers’ precious money will not be squandered on the salaries of rabbis who do not provide services to the public. Similar arrangements should be made for kosher supervision and other religious services.

In the short term, Bennett’s “Tzohar bill” will make it easier for hundreds of couples to marry. But this legislation is no “revolution.” In the long run, a real “revolution” is needed in the way religious services are provided.

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