Bill to end wedding fees for rabbis

Rabbis have been receiving double income- state-funded salaries and private payments for marriage ceremonies.

orbach 248.88 (photo credit: GPO)
orbach 248.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Following the storm that erupted two weeks ago surrounding the issue of wedding licenses for rabbis, MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) proposed a new bill to address one of the core complaints in the controversy.
Orbach’s bill, submitted last week, would make it illegal for a rabbi employed by a local religious council to accept money or any other form of remuneration when performing a wedding for someone who lives in the city where he works.
“Do MKs get money for drafting legislation?” Orbach asked in a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “Marrying people is part of a rabbi’s job, so there’s no reason he should get money for this service when he gets a salary from the state.”
Much of the controversy surrounding the wedding issue involves claims that rabbis employed by local religious councils request money or other forms of payment for the weddings they perform. The Tzohar rabbinical organization says that it is because of the widespread nature of this phenomenon that it initiated its free wedding service, which it had to shut down temporarily two weeks ago due to bureaucratic obstacles that it attributed to the Religious Services Ministry.
Under Orbach’s bill, a rabbi would still be able to receive compensation for expenses such as travel and overtime.
Due to the prevalence of rabbis asking to be paid for weddings, the Attorney-General’s Office issued a number of directives in 2009 regulating the system.
Orbach said, however, that there were still loopholes that the directives did not eliminate.
For instance, he noted, a rabbi in a given neighborhood could legally request payment from a couple residing in a different neighborhood of the city, even though both neighborhoods were under the jurisdiction of the same local religious council.
There is also a need, he said, to prevent the regulations being revoked, and legislation would ensure they wouldn’t be.
Following a meeting of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate two weeks ago, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar stated that the phenomenon of rabbis taking unauthorized payments for performing weddings was extremely rare.
However, Orbach said on Sunday that “it’s more common than they like to admit, and it should be rectified.” He added that he hoped the rabbinate would support the bill.
“Rabbis should also know clearly, when they take a job with a local religious council, the benefits and the restrictions of the position,” he stated.
In response to the new bill, the Religious Services Ministry stated that it treated deviation from existing regulations extremely seriously.
“The Ministry of Religious Services has established procedures in the past for conducting weddings, with regard to remuneration, in full coordination with the Ministry of Justice and with the approval of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate,” the ministry said in a statement. “Any deviation from the procedures will be treated harshly by the ministry, which regrets any phenomenon that contradicts the guidelines.”
It added that Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi (Shas) was “determined to eliminate any practice that contravenes the guidelines and which does not conform to the ministry’s policies, and [he] is constantly striving to improve the service it provides to citizens in the regional religious councils.”