The Jewish world was roiled on Thursday when the Haifa Police abruptly woke up prominent Conservative (Masorti) leader Rabbi Dov Hayun at 5:30 a.m. at his home, detained him, and took him in for questioning at the local station for the crime of officiating weddings outside the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate.
Numerous political and rabbinic leaders weighed in on the controversy, with incoming Jewish Agency chairman MK Isaac Herzog condemning the detainment, saying such actions divide the Jewish people, and hard-line Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich backing the police investigation and the Chief Rabbinate’s control over marriage and divorce.
Hayun, who heads the Masorti Moriah Synagogue in Haifa, has performed weddings for many years for couples wishing to marry under the auspices of the Masorti movement.
But an amendment to the Law for Marriage and Divorce, which passed in 2015, stipulates that an individual who conducts a wedding ceremony for a couple and fails to register it with the Chief Rabbinate is liable to a two-year jail sentence.
Thursday’s incident appears to be the first time that this law has been acted on by the police.
Hayun posted on Facebook that he had been detained by the Haifa Police, explaining that he had been told the Haifa Rabbinical Court had filed a complaint against him for conducting weddings, and called on his friends to share the post, which they did en mass.
“Iran is already here,” Hayun declared in his Facebook post regarding the religiously inspired complaint by the Haifa Rabbinical Court and the subsequent police action.
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“The morning began with banging on the door at 5:30 [a.m.] and two policemen summoned me for questioning,” he said.
The police claimed that they had summoned Hayun for questioning following instructions from the rabbinical courts “to investigate the rabbi after he violated the criminal code and the Marriage and Divorce Law in Israel,” but that he had failed to show up and so it had been “forced” to detain him on Thursday morning.
Hayun told The Jerusalem Post
, however, that the police had summoned him by phone on Wednesday for questioning on Thursday, but that he had explained to them that he was giving an address at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on that day and could not come.
The rabbi says he requested to come on Monday, since the fast of Tisha Be’av is on Sunday, and that the police had acceded to his request on the phone. Despite this agreement, he was nevertheless detained Thursday morning.
The Attorney-General’s Office issued a similar statement, saying that the Haifa Rabbinical Court had indeed instructed the police to investigate Hayun, but ruled that it has now instructed that Hayun not be summoned for questioning at all for any criminal matter until it has investigated the issue.
The Rabbinical Courts Administration spokesman said in response to the arrest that Hayun had married an individual who “at the time” held the status of a mamzer, a highly problematic status in Jewish law, which precludes someone from getting married.
The spokesman admitted, however, that the rabbinical court had subsequently “released” the individual from that status.
SPEAKING TO the Post
, Hayun first pointed out that he was not subject to the rulings of the Orthodox state rabbinical courts, “since they don’t recognize me, and I don’t recognize them.”
He also said that the bride had told him that the rabbinical court ruled her status to be “potentially [of] a mamzer
,” and had not issued a formal ruling on the matter. The rabbinical court spokesman insisted that her status at the time had been confirmed although he could not provide the court’s ruling to verify this claim.
Hayun stated that he had thoroughly investigated the status of the bride and ruled on the basis of two points of Jewish law that the woman did not fall under the law of a mamzer
. Hayun therefore performed the wedding so the couple would not have to wait any longer to get married.
The rabbi said that 18 months later, the Haifa Rabbinical Court eventually ruled that the husband and wife were not, in fact, prohibited from marrying each other, as acknowledged by the rabbinical court spokesman.
“Regardless, they don’t recognize me [as a rabbinical authority] so how can it be that I am subject to their rulings?” he demanded.
“Let’s wait until we are before the Gates of Heaven and see who is judged to have been on the side of Jewish law and justice in this case,” said the rabbi.
“It’s not pleasant to be dragged from your bed to an investigation for the sin of doing weddings in accordance with the religion of Moses and Israel,” Hayun said after he left the police station. “I am not a criminal, I am not a murderer, not a law breaker. I was astonished. It’s hard for me to think of a less Jewish deed on the eve of the Fast of Tisha Be’av. The police have been dragged into being a tool of the Orthodox Rabbinical Court. It’s a sad day for democracy in Israel.”
As of 2017, there have been only two instances where the rabbinical courts has placed someone under the status of a “potential mamzer” and two cases where it gave them the status of a mamzer
, all of which were recorded in 2015.
The status of a mamzer
is one of several categories of problematic personal statuses in Jewish law put on a marriage blacklist by the Chief Rabbinate.
There are currently 6,727 Israeli citizens on the blacklist
, according to the religious services advisory organization ITIM. These include people whose Jewish status has been called into question by the Rabbinical Courts, divorcées who have married kohanim, adulterers and others.
The Masorti Movement in Israel has said that it believes the incident was prompted by Hayun’s scheduled lesson with President Reuven Rivlin, to “blacken” the event and embarrass the president.
Rivlin’s office declined to comment on the incident.
RABBI STEVE WERNICK, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in the US, sent a letter protesting the arrest to Israel’s New York consul and vice consul-general, saying there is now “a canyon,” not a gap, between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.
“These are the actions of Iran and Saudi Arabia,” he wrote. “What’s next, the police will enforce the rabbinate’s modesty rules? Kashrut rules? Shabbat rules? The prime minister and his government are now at risk of permanently harming Klal Yisrael [the Jewish nation], certainly with the next generation of North American Jews… Israel is losing its soul and weakening its democracy and Jewish character. It’s beacon of light on the nations is now dim. Even I am having difficulty seeing it.”
Dr. Yizhar Hess, the director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, described the incident as “an outrage,” which “demonstrates that the rabbinical courts have been intoxicated with power.”
Quipped Hess, “On the other hand, it is nice to know that the Chief Rabbinate all of a sudden recognizes Conservative marriages. We stand fully behind Rabbi Hayun and support him. It’s hard not to wonder at the timing of the detention.”
The timing is also significant given a very new initiative by Orthodox rabbis outside of the Chief Rabbinate to provide a privately run wedding service, called Chuppot
.The Hashgacha Pratit
organization, which oversees Chuppot, said in response to Hayun’s arrest that the “persecution” of rabbis who do weddings outside of the Chief Rabbinate will not bring the many hundreds of couples who marry outside of its auspices every year back to its arms.
A study by the Panim organization published in April this year found that at least 2,434 private Jewish marriage ceremonies took place in Israel in 2017, representing an increase of approximately 8% compared with 2016.
At the same time, 39,111 couples got married using the rabbinate in 2015 compared with 36,205 couples who did in 2017 – a decrease of approximately 8% over two years. The most considerable change was in Tel Aviv, where there was a decrease of approximately 15% between 2016 and 2017.
“If the details of the incident are correct, then this investigation of a man of religion for conducting weddings outside of the rabbinate is an unprecedented nadir for the State of Israel,” said Hashgacha Pratit in response to incident.
“It is sad and worrying that there are people who prefer to intimidate people of religion instead of trying to fix their [own] policies, which have caused couples to abandon the Chief Rabbinate.”
Michal Berman, the CEO of Panim-The Israeli-Judaism Network, said in response: “We are shocked by the fact a rabbi in Israel is being arrested for doing his job – performing marriage ceremonies for the members of his community.”
“It is impossible to continue to deny reality. The State of Israel must come to its senses and recognize the thousands of citizens who seek religious services that are compatible with the 21st century.”
SPEAKING AT the event with the president where Hayun delivered a Torah lesson, Herzog welcomed the decision by the attorney-general and said he was sure he would put an end to “this witch hunt,” calling for greater tolerance.
“We are approaching Tisha Be’av and speaking about Jewish unity, but the [Jewish] people forget sometimes that it is a people and if this is the case it needs to know how to respect everyone within it,” he said.
“Actions like the arrest of Rabbi Hayun only contributes to division and schism and hatred and this is the last thing our people need on the eve of Tisha Be’av, and at all.”
Smotrich said, however, that “the law is the law” and that “anyone who violates it must be put on trial.”
The Bayit Yehudi MK insisted that marriage and divorce must remain within the exclusive purview of the Chief Rabbinate in order to “remain one people here” and to avoid situations in the future of people who fall under the status of potential mamzer or of having to establish records of Jewish status.
ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber described the incident as outrageous, and also noted that his organization has been working, in vain, for more than two years to change the legislation, making marriage outside the rabbinate’s jurisdiction a criminal offense.
“Unfortunately, the government hasn’t been willing to cooperate to take this off the books,” he said. “Israel has a moral and legal responsibility to respect Jewish practice. If the rabbinate would commit itself to solving the problems of those who can’t get married rather than engaging in public relations to promote its version of Orthodoxy, Jews would be more connected to their Jewish lives and to Israel.”
The Reform Movement in Israel said, “Never before has the battle waged over the spirit of Judaism in Israel been more pronounced.”
The movement promised to “continue to marry thousands of couples each year. We will continue to accompany tens of thousands of Israeli families in moments of sorrow and joy. We will continue to fight this ugly wave of fanaticism and nationalism. And we will continue to fulfill our promise: ‘lihyot am hofshi b’artzenu’ – to be a free people in our country.
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