Bill to eliminate prison term for rabbis who perform private weddings

Clause on jail time never discussed in Knesset panel.

Wedding [illustrative] (photo credit: INIMAGE)
Wedding [illustrative]
(photo credit: INIMAGE)
Ministers on Sunday are to consider an amendment to retract the two-year prison term imposed on a rabbi who performs a wedding outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is to reconsider what has been described as a draconian penalty that was instituted last year when the Bayit Yehudi party included it as a clause in legislation abolishing marriage registration zones.
The law was considered a landmark that would increase competition between local rabbinates and thereby generate better service for the general public. However, but the clause on imprisoning rabbis for performing private weddings was not deliberated, since it was inserted into the bill at the very end of the legislative process.
There are often cases in which couples encounter severe bureaucratic problems within the rabbinate that prevent them getting married on their intended wedding date. This includes instances when the rabbinate fails to approve one or both of the partners’ documentation proving their Jewish status.
Converts who converted in a private rabbinical court or in an Orthodox manner outside of Israel also encounter problems with the rabbinate and cannot get registered to marry, since the local municipal rabbi will not accept their conversion and will thus refuse to marry them.
In other cases, some couples simply do not wish to marry under the auspices of the rabbinate and elect to marry with an Orthodox rabbi of their choosing, but without the rabbinate’s approval.
The original bill was meant to prevent couples from marrying outside the rabbinate who then separate without a get or religious bill of divorce.
The concern behind the original law was that without a heavy penalty on rabbis for performing private weddings, people who wanted to could approach a rabbinical court to seek a divorce without having to be afraid that they (or their rabbi) would be charged with a criminal offense.
Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services advisory and lobbying group that drafted the proposed amendment, described the two-year penalty for performing private marriages as excessive and disproportionate.
“Last year, while everyone was talking about civil marriage, the religious authorities quietly made it illegal to perform a private wedding here, thus making their monopoly stronger,” said Farber, who is an Orthodox rabbi but who stressed that he has not performed private weddings in Israel.
“Following the legislation, Israel became one of the few countries in the world, alongside the likes of North Korea, where a rabbi can get thrown in jail for performing a chuppa. The ministers must show some responsibility and rewrite the legislation,” he said.