Margi backs down over Tzohar wedding program

Religious Services Minister agrees to amend law that would have severely restricted Tzohar's ability to provide wedding services.

Margi 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Margi 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Religious-Zionist rabbinical group Tzohar and the Religious Services Ministry came to an agreement that will enable the organization to continue performing free weddings for Israeli couples.
The ugly spat that broke out this week between the two ended after Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav sat down with Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi in the Knesset on Wednesday.
Tzohar had accused Margi and the Chief Rabbinate of dealing with their free wedding service in a discriminatory manner. The group claimed that Margi was enforcing regulations on its program that the ministry ignored when it came to private haredi rabbinical courts. It also alleged that the bureaucratic obstacles were imposed to safeguard the income of rabbinate-approved rabbis.
But after extended talks between the two sides, Margi agreed to amend a law stipulating that couples must register to marry in their city of residence.
This will allow Tzohar to continue servicing the approximately 2,000 marriages it performs every year through the rabbinate in Shoham, where Stav is the chief rabbi, and through which the group directs engaged couples to register.
According to Tzohar, the new version of the law will allow “all citizens of all cities in Israel to marry through the Tzohar program.”
The Religious Services Ministry had informed Tzohar that the Shoham rabbinate would only be allowed to register 200 weddings a year, but according to the new deal, the ministry will now ignore wedding registrations in excess of this figure until the law is amended.
“This should be viewed as a major victory for Jewish values and Israeli democracy,” said Stav in a statement on Thursday.
“We hope that it will be the beginning of continued progress in healing the divide in society and preserving the Jewish character of the State of Israel.”
In response to Tzohar’s accusations on Tuesday, the ministry denied Tzohar’s claims that it was enforcing the law in a discriminatory manner, and said that it was simply acting in accordance with the findings of a state comptroller investigation that found “irregularities” in the application of laws pertaining to marriage registration.
Tzohar’s announcement on Tuesday that it would be closing its wedding program in protest of the ministry’s regulations sparked widespread condemnation of Margi and the ministry. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, MKs Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), Haim Amsalem (Shas) and others, all inveighed against the ministry and stated that they would introduce legislation to clear any obstacles for couples wanting to make use of Tzohar’s services.
Tzohar credited Margi’s about-face to the “large-scale public outcry” which followed Tzohar’s announcement that it would be halting its program.
“Should this decision have stood, the actions of the Ministry of Religious Affairs would have directly caused a mass wave of intermarriage and assimilation, deeply damaging Tzohar’s ongoing efforts to preserve the Jewish identity of the State of Israel,” Stav said.
“We therefore thank Minister Margi for reevaluating this issue and making the necessary decision which will benefit many thousands of Jewish couples in the years ahead.”