Tzohar head against bill promoted by own group

Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel says he's uncomfortable with Knesset involvement in dealings of the Chief Rabbinate.

Alternative wedding, Tel Aviv_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Alternative wedding, Tel Aviv_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Rabbi Ya’akov Ariel, president of the Tzohar national-religious rabbinical association, expressed opposition on Friday to the so-called “Tzohar Bill” that his own organization lobbied for and which passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset two weeks ago.
“I’m not comfortable with Knesset involvement in the dealings of the Chief Rabbinate,” the rabbi told Makor Rishon in an interview published on Friday. “The rabbinate has a job and it needs to be able to do its work, and it can’t be that we tell it how to operate.”
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The Tzohar Bill – so named because it is primarily designed to assist the independent Tzohar rabbinical group in registering and marrying people – would allow couples to register in any municipal jurisdiction they want. As the law stands, a couple must register in the city of residence of one of the spouses-to-be, which also limits their choice of which rabbi can marry them.
Ariel said he wasn’t consulted or asked by others in the organization who decided to push for legislation on the matter in recent months.
He did say, however, that he disagreed with the stance of the rabbinate toward his organization.
“I have a very deep argument with the rabbinate on this issue. But the change needs to come from within the rabbinate itself and not through a bill. Only when there is no other alternative whatsoever should we consider legislation.”
In response, a Tzohar official agreed that legislation should be a last resort, but said that it had only been advanced following “a year and a half” of efforts to get political officials who were able to prevent the closure of Tzohar’s wedding initiative to intervene.
“Unfortunately, these efforts were unsuccessful, and therefore it was agreed with Minister [of Religious Services Ya’acov] Margi [to advance] legislation to regulate our operations. It’s important to remember that the law [restricting] marriage registration to the regions was the main pretext for the minister in hindering our initiative.”
Over the past few years, Tzohar has registered marriages primarily from Shoham and the Gush Etzion region, even if couples were not residing there, because rabbis belonging to the organization head the rabbinates there. In November, Tzohar temporarily suspended its wedding service because of a bureaucratic crackdown imposed by the ministry and the rabbinate.
Following a national uproar, an agreement was reached between the two sides to return to the status quo, but Tzohar decided to lobby for the introduction of legislation to protect its initiative.