NGOs call for probe into rabbinic ’income’

Call follows comments attributed to Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger regarding state-employed rabbis who officiate at weddings.

Yonah Metzger 521 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yonah Metzger 521
(photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Hiddush, the religious lobbying group, has called for an investigation into “mass violations of the law” in the wake of comments attributed to Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger regarding state-employed rabbis who officiate at weddings.
In an interview with the haredi weekly newspaper Bakehila, Metzger, the country’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, was quoted as saying that “conducting weddings is often income for rabbis” and that “there are for sure rabbis for whom this is a part of their income.”
State-employed rabbis are forbidden by law from taking money or any form of remuneration for conducting weddings.
A spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate said in response that Metzger had been misquoted by the interviewers, Aaron Klyger and Shlomo Gil.
Klyger had asked Metzger about one of the central criticisms aimed at the rabbinate – the rule that people must obtain permission from the local religious council to marry outside the council’s jurisdiction or to bring in an outside rabbi to perform the ceremony.
According to the current rule, this restriction can be waived if the rabbi who performs the ceremony is on a special national list or has been specifically approved by the local religious council where the wedding is taking place.
“If outside rabbis come and conduct weddings in the neighborhood where a rabbi serves, then we are harming his income,” Metzger was quoted as saying.
He went on to explain that if a rabbi could conduct weddings anywhere, local rabbis would lower their price for conducting weddings in order to get more clients, and could even become more lenient in aspects of Jewish law pertaining to weddings.
Metzger then went on to explain that the NIS 600 marriage registration fee also represented a source of income for local religious councils that subsidize religious services.
The spokesman for the Chief Rabbinate claimed that where the chief rabbi was quoted as saying that conducting weddings is often “income for rabbis,” he had meant income for local religious councils.
Bakehila’s Gil stated to The Jerusalem Post that Metzger’s comments had been misunderstood, but neither he nor a representative of the haredi paper could confirm that a clarification would be printed. Klyger could not be reached for comment.
Hiddush director Uri Regev said in a statement that law enforcement authorities should open an investigation following the comments attributed to the chief rabbi.
“Metzger’s comments suggest mass violation of the law and the prevention of competition between rabbis in order to increase the income of neighborhood and city rabbis,” said Regev.
He also called for the abolition of the Chief Rabbinate, an end to state-employed rabbis and the establishment of civil marriage.
“In this way,” Regev said, “every community and sector will be able to choose in an equitable way the best rabbis for themselves without coercion and without the division of spoils and political appointments.”
I TIM, an independent religious advisory service, concurred.
“Itim is very concerned about this further indication that the Chief Rabbinate seeks to justify its behavior rather than acknowledge its shortcomings and address them,” said ITIM director Seth Farber, an Orthodox rabbi. “We concur that a fuller investigation is in order.”
Some groups, such as the independent Tzohar rabbinical association, have vigorously claimed that many municipal rabbis demand payment for officiating at wedding ceremonies.
Tzohar executive vice-president Nachman Rosenberg said it was “shocking” to read Metzger’s “explicit and proud description of protecting the illegal cash income of official rabbis” working for the rabbinate.
“There was never a doubt that the banning of Zionist rabbis from performing weddings was motivated by money and politics,” Rosenberg said.
He added that Tzohar would continue to “pursue the rights of thousands of Zionist rabbis who are fully committed to Halacha and devoted to preserving the Jewish identity of all Jews in Israel.”