(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Nearly two years after the passage of the “Tzohar law,” the legislation – designed to improve services in local rabbinates – has yet to be implemented, due to the objections of the Chief Rabbinate.
The legislation was passed in October 2013 and abolished marriage registration districts to allow couples to register wherever they wish, regardless of where they live. It was designed to stimulate competition among local rabbinates for the NIS 700 marriage registration fee so as to improve the service provided to marrying couples.
Complaints have frequently been made about unhelpful and overly bureaucratic local rabbinates, some of which also refuse to register converts for marriage, and the law was intended to improve this situation.
The Chief Rabbinate has steadfastly opposed the law, however, saying that it presents difficulties to local rabbinate staff and municipal chief rabbis in determining that the spouses are indeed single, if they come from a different jurisdiction.
The Office of the Chief Rabbinate therefore instructed all local rabbinates on January 12, 2015, not to allow couples to bring witnesses to prove their single marital status, a required bureaucratic step, outside of the local rabbinate in their place of residence, thereby circumventing the law.
Although the law itself makes no mention of the issue of single status validation, the Chief Rabbinate said that it would implement the law if a computerized database regarding the marital status of Israeli citizens would be established to obviate the necessity of producing a certificate of single status in the marriage registration process.
Speaking at a hearing in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice committee on Tuesday, Rabbi Yitzhak Ralbag, a member of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and prominent opponent of the law, along with the head of the marriage registration department of the Religious Services Ministry, said that the computer database is not yet operational, which is the reason the Chief Rabbinate still requires that single status certificates be produced in the local rabbinate where the couple reside.
However, attorney Elad Kaplan of the ITIM organization, which lobbied for the passage of the law, pointed out that former deputy religious services minister Eli Ben-Dahan said in the Knesset plenum in May 2014 that the system was up and running and installed in all local rabbinates.
Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie criticized the Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to implement the law and said during the hearing that the stance would have a negative impact on the standing of the religious establishment.
She also pointed out that production of a certificate of single status, the proximate cause of the Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to implement the law, is not required by Jewish law.
“It saddens me to see that the status of the Chief Rabbinate among young Israelis continues to deteriorate, and this law was designed to rectify this situation,” said Lavie.
MK Roy Folkman of Kulanu also criticized the Chief Rabbinate, saying that it should be at the forefront of efforts to improve the services it and local rabbinates provide.
“Local rabbinates need to improve services, and the way to do this is certainly not to block legislation designed to do just that,” said Folkman, who also called on the Chief Rabbinate to publish a charter of best practice for local rabbinates.
He added that it should not take two years to get the computer database up and running.
MK Yoav Ben-Tzur of Shas insisted, however, that the Chief Rabbinate was correct to demand the production of the certificate of single status from a couple’s local rabbinate until the computer system is operational.
“Until there is an operative computer system, local rabbinates have to demand single marital status certificates so that the Jewish people remains the pure Jewish people and does not become assimilated,” said Ben-Tzur.
Speaking at the end of the hearing, committee chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky called for the computer database to be made operational within two months, and said that the committee would continue to monitor the progress in implementing the law.