Rabbis in Israel quarrel over the nixing of marriage registration zones

Tension remain between the Ministry of Religious Services, Chief Rabbinate over new law.

Israeli wedding (photo credit: Reuters)
Israeli wedding
(photo credit: Reuters)
Ongoing tensions between the Ministry of Religious Services and the Chief Rabbinate  surfaced again on Monday over the implementation of a new law abolishing marriage registration zones.
Prior to the the passage of the legislation, known as the Tzohar law, couples registering for marriage had to register in the city or municipal jurisdiction where they were resident.
The Tzohar rabbinical association, among others, claimed that this restriction led to poor practice and an unwelcoming and even hostile attitude by marriage registrars to couples seeking to register, in a process that is frequently sensitive.
The organization also alleges that rabbis authorized by the rabbinate to perform weddings take payments for conducting marriage ceremonies in contravention of the law.
The new law abolishing marriage registration zones went into effect at the end of February and allows a couple to register for marriage with whichever local rabbinate they wish.
On Monday, Deputy Minister for Religious Services Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan participated in the monthly meeting of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate and re-emphasized the importance of the legislation and its implementation.
“Marriage registration regions are open and will remain open,” he said. “More than 3,000 couples have already registered since the legislation went into effect,” he continued.
He also described the successful establishment of a computerized database for marriage registration which is designed to prevent marriages which are not valid within Jewish law, such as someone trying to open a marriage file who is already married to another person, or the marriage of a Cohen to a divorcee or convert.
The database is intended to provide the solution to the stated objection of the chief rabbinate to the bill which claims that the marriage registration regions are crucial because municipal rabbis are familiar with the residents of their city or town and are therefore aware of any possible halachic difficulties with the couple.
“The computer system makes marriage registration around the country more accessible for couples coming to register, and provides a halachic solution to serious problems that occurred for years, and I call on the chief rabbinate to join this important process,” Ben-Dahan said.
However, according to reports in the haredi media, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef expressed his ongoing opposition to the law, calling it “a serious blow to the world of the rabbinate.”
And the chief municipal rabbi of Beersheva, Rabbi Yehuda Deri who is a member of the Council and brother of Shas chairman Arye Deri, said “we will not honor the law, it is preferably that the law for abolishing marriage registration districts be cancelled.”
His counterpart, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said the law had been passed against the opinion of the chief rabbinate and that the body would take action if there were specific problems with a couple’s marriage registration process.
Well placed sources say however that Lau cautiously expressed support for the new system and understands the necessity for it.
Following the meeting, the chief rabbinate issued a statement saying that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate would establish committee to examine the implementation of the law, which will present its opinion to the chief rabbis.
“Until the recommendations have been submitted and the chief rabbis have given their authorization, couples will still need to present a certificate of single marital status and confirmation of Jewish status from the local rabbinate where they live,” the chief rabbinate stated.
A source in the Ministry for Religious Services said that this statement was not relevant and noted that the new system was up and running and would remain so for all marriage registrations.
The source noted that since the new law took effect, 3,721 couples had begun the new registration system and 2,369 had successfully registered.
In response to the reports about the disagreement between the chief rabbinate and the Ministry, Tzohar said praised Ben-Dahan for enforcing the implementation of the law, but criticized the chief rabbinate for its attitude towards the new system.
“It is now much easier for thousands of secular couples to marry in a halachic Jewish ceremony, which reduces assimilation and intermarriage. It is unfortunate that there are several municipal rabbis who are more concerned with ego and politics, than with halacha and the future of the Jewish people."