Tzohar bill delayed by government agreement with haredim over budget

Dep. Min Ben-Dahan: deal was done without our knowledge, bill will be passed in first few days of new Knesset session.

Couple holding a wedding rings 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Couple holding a wedding rings 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The so-called “Tzohar law” to abolish regional marriage registration districts was delayed at the end of the the summer Knesset session following an agreement between the coalition and haredi parties over the budget, it emerged on Sunday.
The setback is, however, considered to be a temporary delay, with Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben- Dahan telling The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the reform was central to his plans to shake up the provision of religious services, and would be brought for the final stages of the legislative process at the beginning of the Knesset winter session.
According to a report in Ma’ariv, on the night of the vote on the 2013-14 state budget, on July 29 – two days before the end of the summer session – the government agreed to several concessions to the opposition to avoid parliamentary delaying tactics which could have prevented the approval of the budget.
One of those concessions was an agreement not to bring the Tzohar bill to a second and third (final) reading in the last two days of the summer session.
The haredi parties are adamantly opposed to the Tzohar bill, which they claim will damage the integrity of the rabbinate marriage system.
The religious-Zionist rabbinical group Tzohar, the architect of the law, alleges that regional marriage registration districts perpetuate an inefficient, hostile and even corrupt system, thereby alienating secular Israelis from religion for whom marriage registration and the wedding process is one of the only times they encounter the religious establishment.
According to the report, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman made an agreement with Shas chairman Arye Deri, along with MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beytenu and MK Eitan Cabel of Labor, who has proposed the bill. The coalition supposedly would be able to advance the budget without hindrance while the haredi parties got to stymie the Tzohar bill a little longer.
Ben-Dahan said that the agreement was made without consultation with Bayit Yehudi and that regrettably several members of the coalition agreed to a number of demands made by the opposition in return for shortening the debate on the budget.
The deputy minister insisted, however, that the bill would be brought for its second and third readings “in the first few days of the winter session,” and stressed the the importance of passing the measure as a piece of Knesset legislation instead of an administrative directive from the Religious Services Ministry, which would make it easier for the policy to be revoked in the future.
Cabel confirmed the agreement had been made but said, like Ben-Dahan, that the bill would be brought for it second and third readings at the beginning of the winter session.
The new legislation will allow couples to register with the local rabbinate of any district or city they wish regardless of where they themselves reside.
The law was promoted by Tzohar because it alleged that the rabbis belonging to its rabbinical association were prevented by the Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Services Ministry, formerly run by Shas, from gaining licenses to perform marriages.
Most couples seeking to use Tzohar’s free wedding service and to have the organization help them through the bureaucracy were directed by the group to register in two or three registration districts, which were not their place of residence as required by law.
At the end of 2011, then-religious services minister and then-Shas MK Ya’acov Margi imposed a strict limit on the number of registrations that could be conducted in the Tzohar- friendly marriage registration districts, thereby de facto severely limiting the number of people who could take advantage of Tzohar’s wedding service.
In recent years, the organization has conducted about 3,000 marriages annually. The current bill stems from this struggle.