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
One of those reforms, which will abolish regional
marriage registration jurisdictions, was passed on Monday.
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
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
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.
attempted to claim that the “Tzohar bill” would introduce competition to
“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.
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
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
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.