Deputy Religious Services minister to seek ban of independent Orthodox marriages and conversions

Shas MK Amnon Cohen demands simplification of process for couples seeking to get married, including allowing online registration.

Sea of haredim 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Sea of haredim 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
During a hearing of the Knesset State Control Committee on Wednesday, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan announced his intention to introduce legislation that would make it a criminal offense to marry, divorce, or convert anyone in an Orthodox manner outside of the auspices of state bureaucracies.
Ben-Dahan told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that such a move would prevent instances where, for example, a married man who has encountered problems in the divorce process seeks to marry another woman. He already had legislation on the matter drafted, which is being reviewed by the Justice Ministry, he added.
The state system prevents these situations and other forms of forbidden marriage because it utilizes a comprehensive database detailing the marital status of citizens, which is consulted by state marriage registrars.
Criticism has been leveled at the proposal, since it would create further difficulties for people who had converted in an Orthodox, but independent, rabbinical court.
The Post reported last month on one such case, in which a woman seeking to convert in an Orthodox manner encountered obstruction from the state conversion bureaucracy. She eventually converted with the independent Orthodox rabbinical court of Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz, one of the world’s most authoritative Torah scholars.
The woman and her spouse subsequently married in an Orthodox ceremony abroad because they could not legally marry in Israel, due to her conversion in an independent court.
The state rabbinical courts recognized both her conversion and her marriage but the ministry nevertheless refused to register them as married.
ITIM, a religious services and lobbying organization, has advocated for the rights of such people.
“Rabbi Ben-Dahan’s proposal seeks to consolidate even further the power of the rabbinate. Given the reputation of the religious establishment, this would further distance people from traditional Judaism,” said ITIM director and Orthodox rabbi Seth Farber.
A petition submitted by ITIM on the issue is under consideration in the High Court of Justice.
“The rights of people who have converted in a halachic manner, and which have been approved by state rabbinical courts, must be protected,” Farber stated.
Ben-Dahan said, however, that such matters could not resolved in such a manner and that the state had a legitimate concern in seeking to prevent marriages prohibited by Jewish law.
He added that he has already spoken with the Interior Ministry on such issues and is continuing to work to improve the relevant services and bureaucracies.
In addition to the issue of private Orthodox religious ceremonies, MK Amnon Cohen of Shas, chairman of the State Control Committee, demanded at the hearing that the marriage registration process be simplified for the benefit of couples seeking to get married.
Cohen said he wanted to arrive at a situation where couples could register online, in cases where there are no complicating factors.
The Shas MK also demanded that the Chief Rabbinate allow anyone qualified to serve as a neighborhood rabbi to perform weddings.
If this is not approved, he said, he will introduce legislation to force it through.
Currently, only rabbis approved by the Chief Rabbinate may perform marriages.
ITIM handles more than 1,000 complaints and cases each year. Ben-Dahan said he will be working to formulate a disciplinary process for chief municipal city rabbis, including the ability to fire them if they violated approved guidelines.
The appointment as chief municipal rabbi lasts until the age of 75, and there is effectively no process to dismiss or discipline them.
“If the Council of the Chief Rabbinate does not deal with this, I will advance an amendment to the law so that a municipal city rabbi who violates disciplinary rules can be removed from his post,” Dahan said at the hearing.