The challenge: To marry in the rabbinate
Religious councils' treatment of their residents cannot continue to operate as a comedy.
Jerusalem Chief Rabbinate Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
The American comedian Don Adams (of Get Smart fame) once quipped: “I love to get
married but I don’t like to be married.”
As the wedding season opened
this week in Israel with Tu Be’av, most of the Jewish public in Israel would say
just the opposite. Many Israelis are happy to be married, but they don’t love
getting married – at least through the rabbinate.
According to a recent
study, 80 percent of Israeli Jews say it is important or very important to them
to be married in a ceremony conducted by a rabbi. Furthermore, more than 90%
marry under a huppa having registered their marriages in local religious
councils. And yet, people are devastated by the behavior of the rabbinate, and a
large majority of Israelis think that civil marriage should be an
There are some rabbinates that are user friendly, but, generally,
the young, new generation and Generation X are dissatisfied by the services they
receive in the rabbinate. In my experience – and during the past year ITIM (a
non-profit agency dedicated to making Jewish life accessible to all) assisted
close to 2,000 couples who sought to get married in Israel – the procedures of
the rabbinate are cumbersome.
Additionally, these procedures are rarely
enforced by local rabbinates, who choose to make their own rules.
AVERAGE, a couple wishing to marry has to visit the rabbinate four times due to
a lack of familiarity with the complicated beauracratic procedures, which need
not exist in a process so common and simple. In many cases, marriage
registration and the accompanying Jewishness verification procedure are
conducted without respect, fairness or transparency, even at the elementary
In the past year we received queries about marriage bureaus that
still refuse to register converts, despite the fact that the Chief Rabbinate has
already issued an order to register them (a provision that also won the support
of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef). We have received complaints about registrars who were
unwilling to accept a person as Jewish even though his parents were married in
the country, which clearly contradicts the procedures of the Chief
In other cases, registrars have refused to accept Jewishness
certification (of someone born a Jew!) from a rabbinical court, and sent the
couple to a private investigator (at their own expense), before agreeing to open
This would all be comical (in the Don Adams sense), if it
wasn’t so serious and outrageous.
In each of the cases outlined above,
ITIM’s offices turned to the Chief Rabbinate, which offered only partial
solutions, seeking to avoid confrontation with the local rabbinates.
DATE, the establishment repeatedly refuses to punish rabbis who alienate young
couples. However, the real problem is not the rabbinate. The real problem is on
the Israeli streets.
Nothing will change until all those who care about
the Jewish identity of the country wake up and protest. Our problem is not only
with the rabbis who are circling their wagons, it is also with the general
population who feigns indifference.
It’s time to call upon the rabbinic
establishment to improve its services to citizens and to refine the procedures
concerning registration of marriage. This year I turn specifically to residents
of Rishon Lezion, Hadera, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Rehovot – as well as many other
places where marriage registration disenfranchises young couples.
to the religious, the secular and the traditional; to new immigrants and to
veteran Israelis alike. If you would like our children to be married in a normal
manner, it’s time to wake up.
Make it clear to religious councils that
their treatment of their residents cannot continue to operate as a
Rabbi Dr. Seth (Shaul) Farber is the founder and director of
ITIM, which helps people interact with the religious establishment.