Chupah Pratit marries 160 couples in its first year

This framework for Orthodox marriage seeks to challenge the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly.

August 15, 2019 19:23
4 minute read.
Chupah Pratit marries 160 couples in its first year

Chupah Pratit wedding officiator and Hashgacha Pratit founder Rabbi Aaron Liebowitz officiates a wedding.. (photo credit: MAY BAR)

As the Jewish world celebrates Tu Be’av (the Jewish day of love on the full moon of the lunar month of Av) on Thursday night and Friday, a group called Chupah Pratit (Hebrew for private wedding canopy) said it has married 160 couples over the last year in an Orthodox ceremony meant to challenge the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over the institution.

The initiative, launched a year ago, is an Orthodox rabbinical venture that provides support for couples who want to get married according to Jewish law, and was formed by organization Hashgacha Pratit – the organization that brought about a revolution in kashrut supervision.

The wedding service was established by Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, founder of Hashgacha Pratit, and is headed by Rabbi Chuck Davidson, who has been active in the realm of private Orthodox weddings for many years.

On the eve of Tu Be’av, Leibowitz said in a statement that “so far, we have contacted 437 couples, of whom 160 couples have already married, and 126 other couples have announced the wedding date for the coming months.”

He explained that they already “have over 20 teachers and Chupah officiators – men and women of Torah law – who are qualified, and dedicated rabbis and their wives, with a worldview that religious services should be based on choice – and not on coercion.
“In light of the 11% drop in the number of couples who registered for marriage through the Chief Rabbinate over the past three years, it is clear that young people today are not giving up on halachic chupot, but only the separatist and extreme policies of the Chief Rabbinate. Accordingly, we expect the numbers of Chupah’s to double [over] the [coming] year,” he added.

Regarding the identity and background of the couples, Rabbi Leibowitz said, “We officiate religious, traditional and secular couples.
A third of the couples “come to us because of the Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to marry those who have undergone Orthodox conversion with bodies” not recognized by the rabbinate, or immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who cannot prove they are Jewish because the Soviet suppression of religion meant that no religious marriage certificates or similar documentation can be produced.

“The other couples who contact us do not want to marry under auspices of the Chief Rabbinate for ideological reasons,” Leibowitz explained. “We also maintain transparency and, through our website, [the] personal status of all the couples we married.”
The couples who marry through Chupah Pratit go through a process of preparations, clarification of Judaism, signing of documents and learning.

Davidson, who heads up the wedding process explained that they get to know “every couple in depth” and check through personal record briefs provided by the Interior Ministry.

The couples then sign affidavits formulated for the organization in the Atim legal department, and also makes sure the bride and groom are fit to marry.

“In addition, we make sure that the couple understands the implications of the wedding properly,” he explained, adding that the couples also sign a prenuptial agreement stipulating financial sanctions if one partner refuses to consent to a divorce to prevent incidents of “chained” women or men.

Last year, Davidson made it clear that he is not seeking to bring down the Chief Rabbinate but rather to provide an alternative – something that has always been available in Jewish history, he said.

“The Chief Rabbinate has a right to its halachic opinion, and I don’t want to force my opinion on them, but they don’t have a right to force their opinion on any other rabbi,” he explained.

One of the halachic teachers who is part of the Chupah Pratit, Rabbanit Sarah Segal-Katz, said that it was “not easy to join the team, but once it was made clear that all activities will be carried out within the framework of Jewish law and the limits of the law,” the need for this overcame the need for personal comfort.

“There are thousands of couples each year who suffer from the discriminatory attitude of the Chief Rabbinate, which is basically a product of policy – and not of halacha,” she explained. “The question is whether I, as a woman of halacha, am willing to look the other way at these injustices and problems, or if I am willing to play a part in the solution.”

Segal-Katz stressed that “This legislative change is important, but after decades of stagnation in the field, I have no doubt it’s time to stop waiting and start doing it.

“Precisely on the eve of a general election to the Knesset, it is clear that what does not come from the bottom up will not come from the top,” she concluded.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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