Chief Rabbinate voices opposition to Dep. Min. Ben Dahan on marriage registration

Newly installed Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef move to block Bayit Yehudi marriage registration zones initiative.

Rabbi David Lau 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Rabbi David Lau 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate, headed by Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, publicly voiced opposition on Wednesday to abolishing marriage registration zones, a major policy initiative of Bayit Yehudi and the Religious Services Ministry.
Following the first meeting of the council with the new chief rabbis, the body issued a statement to the press calling on the Knesset to rethink legislation that would scrap marriage registration zones which prevent a couple from registering for marriage outside of their city of residence.
It has been argued by the Tzohar rabbinical association, the architects of the current legislation, that the regional marriage registration districts perpetuate an inefficient, hostile and even corrupt system, and alienates secular Israelis from religion and the religious establishment.
“The Council of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel calls on the members of Knesset to reconsider the continuation of legislation for opening up marriage registration regions,” the institution wrote following the meeting which, except for the first five minutes, was closed to the press.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Lau currently presides as president of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, while Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yosef is the president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
“Against the background of the bill currently in front of the Knesset, the council decided that the marriage registration system must be consistent with the requirements of Jewish law and the questions which arise from this bill, alongside deep consideration for the approachability of the registration [process] for marrying couples,” the council wrote.
Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan criticized the decision of the council to oppose the legislation, labeling the statement “sad.”
Ben-Dahan, who runs the ministry, has advocated for the abolition of marriage registration districts as part of a broad series of reforms to the provision of religious services.
Allegations and reports of bureaucratic and religious obstructionism have proliferated in recent years and the ministry hopes that the abolition of the registration districts will create competition among local religious councils for the NIS 775 registration fee, and thereby improve the services provided.
“I regret the decision of the Chief Rabbinate to oppose a step which the Israeli public is thirsty for and in need of,” Ben-Dahan wrote on his Facebook page.
Officials in the Religious Services Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that the Chief Rabbinate “risks making itself irrelevant in the eyes of the Israeli public” if it fights measures which are popularly supported.
Opponents of the legislation, which has passed its first reading in Knesset, say that it will make the marriage registration process less reliable and lead to the inadvertent marriage of people who cannot marry according to Jewish law.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a former Ashkenazi chief rabbi, father of serving David Lau and current chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, claimed during the meeting that in most places, chief municipal rabbis sign the document of single marital status, required by anyone seeking to marry, “after inspection and investigation, which many times reveals problems with the couple and prevents mixed marriages and polygamous marriages.”
But Ben-Dahan pointed out that it was due to these concerns that the ministry created a new, online computer system with a complete data base of the marital status of applicants for marriage, allowing for a reliable assessment regarding any potential problems with the marriage of the couple in question.
The deputy minister said the computer system, which will be accessible by all marriage registrars across the country, would reduce human error, increase conformity with Jewish law and make the registration process more reliable then the current system.
Tzohar was the initial driving force behind the bill, which resulted from a confrontation in 2011 between the organization and the Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Services Ministry, then run by Shas.
Tzohar, which provides its free marriage service to approximately 3,000 couples a year, alleged that the ministry and the Chief Rabbinate were unfairly preventing its rabbis from gaining marriage licenses and then severely limited the number of marriage registrations that could be conducted in Tzohar-friendly marriage registration districts, thereby severely limiting the number of people who could take advantage of Tzohar’s wedding service.
The organization declined to comment on the Chief Rabbinate’s statement.
During the chief rabbis election campaign, Lau expressed skepticism regarding the proposed legislation, saying that in Modi’in, where he served as chief municipal rabbi, he had set up an online computer program for easy marriage registration.
Alongside Ben-Dahan’s criticism, the moderate national-religious organization Ne’emanei Torah V’Avodah spoke out against the Chief Rabbinate’s statement, saying that it testified to the “complete disconnection of the institution of the current rabbinic establishment and the nadir to which the rabbinate has fallen following the recent elections for the chief rabbis.”
Ne’emanei Torah V’Avodah said that the abolition of marriage registration districts was required to “prevent the control of the marriage registration process in Israel by extremist haredi elements and the imposition of extreme interpretations of Jewish law on Israeli citizens.”