Chief rabbis deny bias against Tzohar, begin probe

“Very severe slander was spoken against all rabbis in Israel, things that have no connection to reality,” Amar says.

Rabbinate fighting non-orthodox 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Rabbinate fighting non-orthodox 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Following a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Chief Rabbinical Council, chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger said the body had decided to establish a committee to investigate claims of discrimination in granting rabbis licenses to perform marriages and enforcing marriage registration laws.
The meeting had been called to discuss the council’s position on the controversy that erupted last week over the Tzohar rabbinical group and its free wedding service.
Though they agreed to look into the matter, both Amar and Metzger were extremely critical of the way Tzohar had sought to solve the problem.
“Instead of coming and talking until an agreement could be reached, a great mistake was made,” said Amar. “Very severe slander was spoken against all rabbis in Israel, things that have no connection to reality.”
Metzger spoke in even harsher terms: “The campaign waged by Tzohar last week against the rabbis of Israel is unparalleled chutzpa.”
Amar referred obliquely to Tzohar’s claims that rabbis associated with the rabbinate took unauthorized payments for performing weddings, saying that even if there had been “one such case,” it should not be a reason to accuse other rabbis of the same thing.
“The blood of rabbis should not be treated lightly,” he asserted.
In a statement Tuesday night, Tzohar rejected the chief rabbis’ claims that it had sought to create a public fight instead of discussing the issue.
“The organization’s request for help from the public to prevent the closure of the [wedding] program was carried out after every effort was [made], over several years, [to come to an agreement], including appeals to the chief rabbis themselves,” the organization said.
“It has been proven in many studies and surveys that the desire for civil marriage is growing within the secular community and is being driven by the growing influence of Lithuanian sections of the Chief Rabbinate, along with the exclusion of religious Zionist rabbis,” it continued. “This process has occurred in parallel with the years of slander leveled against the [Tzohar] wedding initiative.”
Last week, Tzohar temporarily shut down its free wedding program, aimed mainly at secular couples, in protest of regulations that the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Rabbinate had imposed, which would have prevented hundreds of couples from making use of the organization’s services.
Tzohar claimed that the regulations were being selectively imposed on them while private haredi courts that infringed on the same laws were exempt.
Tzohar reopened the program following an agreement between its chairman, Rabbi David Stav, and Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi.
Said Amar in response to Tzohar’s allegations: “They claim that perhaps there is some discrimination against some communities.
Maybe we weren’t aware of them. But we have now established a very distinguished committee, which we hope will also include a senior representative of Tzohar. It will examine the issue truthfully, and if there is something which is found which is not fair or not equitable or discriminates against anyone, then the committee will rectify it and the rabbinical council will support it.”
Metzger flatly denied that there was any discrimination in the application of regulations determining which rabbis qualify for licenses to perform marriages.
“Most of their rabbis qualify according to the criteria. If there are a few of them who don’t meet the criteria requirements, then they’re no different from other rabbis in Israel who also don’t qualify,” he claimed. “But we’re open to everyone, we act equally, and we’re not discriminating against anyone.”
Rumors had circulated prior to the meeting that the council would cancel the agreement between Margi and Tzohar, but Amar denied this and any knowledge of the deal.
“We don’t know about any agreement. What Margi said he would do does not include any changes to how the issue was dealt with until now. We can’t go into further details,” he said.