The POSTman Knocks Twice: Operation Bypass: Defang the Chief Rabbinate

It would take just one courageous rabbi to show the way. His example would be followed by more and more as courage becomes infectious.

THE JERUSALEM conversion office of the Chief Rabbinate (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
THE JERUSALEM conversion office of the Chief Rabbinate
The Rabbi Riskin affair must spell the beginning of the end of the Chief Rabbinate. This article comes to suggest how to hasten the end.
A frontal attack is doomed to failure as long as government coalitions need the religious parties. Those parties need the Chief Rabbinate. It is a major font of their power, providing money and jobs to thousands. I suspect the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party craves its existence as well so that one day it can conquer its budgets and control its patronage. Cry “abolish!” to the heavens until very moons of Saturn resound: Nothing will happen.
A peaceful civic revolt begins with one step. If it succeeds its momentum crushes even politicians. My suggestion is just to ignore, bypass and outflank it. It would take just one courageous rabbi to show the way. His example would be followed by more and more as courage becomes infectious.
No longer would be couples be forced to go abroad to get married. The bypass and outflanking would begin with the rabbi conducting the wedding ceremony in Israel obtaining foreign marriages certificates for the wedded couple, and then have the Interior Ministry recognize the marriage. The couple would have all the civic status and privileges of their new status, without needing a Chief Rabbinate certificate.
How can that be done? Here are a few hypothetical scenarios, which rabbis and experts in law can flesh out.
• Scenario one. Rabbi “A” conducts a marriage ceremony in Israel. Fellow-rabbi “B” in country “X” follows the ceremony on Skype or even takes part in it. The Israeli rabbi gives the bride her ketuba, the traditional marriage contract, as he is bound to do. The overseas rabbi “B” has arranged for an official certificate of marriage in his country.
The couple then brings the overseas certificate to the Interior Ministry, which must register the marriage and make the necessary changes in the population registry. (By international practice and under a High Court ruling the ministry must recognize the marriage.
• Scenario two. The Israeli rabbi conducts the marriage here, and hands the bride her ketuba. The rabbi or the couple has arranged proxy marriage in country “Y” that issues such certificates, that is “stand-ins” represent the absentees. The marriage certificate would be presented to the Interior Ministry, and recognized as valid as in scenario one.
In both the scenarios, there would be one preliminary step. Prior to the wedding, the couple would have to send all relevant documents required by the relevant foreign country. Translations and notarization are expensive. If such costs exceed the registration fees in Israel, the difference should be paid by the relevant rabbinical group or a fund established for that purpose.
Legal experts will need to find a foreign jurisdiction (country, state or province) that permits the foreign rabbi to issue a certificate for marriage to nonresident foreign citizens. A preliminary glance shows that some countries do permit this, such as Brazil or El Salvador. (I have not examined any of the countries in Asia or Africa. Of the hundred-plus non-Muslim nations which exist, there must be more than one available for this.) • Scenario three.
This could be the fun scenario for those who want a honeymoon cruise. The wedding ceremony would be conducted in Israel, as usual, the ketuba handed to the wife as usual. In groups of several dozens, a small ship then takes the couples on an overnight cruise to Cyprus, and anchored at a port there, a Cypriot official boards and works through all the necessary documents, and issues licenses.
If not all the formalities can be performed on shipboard, it could require a land visit. The idea could become a hit for a short honeymoon. Part of the costs such as fees required for the documents should be handled as in the previous scenarios. Here the profit motive of travel agencies could be harnessed to the cause.
If only one rabbi with courage took the first step, more and more would follow. Just imagine: Eventually thousands of Israelis would choose one of these ways. The Chief Rabbinate becomes irrelevant in fact and not just in theory.
Will such an orthodox rabbi step forward? Already Rabbi Shlomo Wilk, a Jerusalem rabbi who heads the Mahanayim yeshiva in the Ohr Torah-Stone complex, has had the courage to call for an end to the Rabbinate just last week in the Makor Rishon newspaper. Remember, this is the paper favored by the religious-Zionists and follows a strong line in support of Bayit Yehudi. (I do not suggest he be the one.
I merely quote him to show how the Chief Rabbinate is openly dismissed in an Orthodox newspaper.) As for me, I would love to see a civil revolt against the Rabbinate, as in what I call scenario number four. Hundreds of couples register with Tzohar and other rabbis, and gather outside of the new interior minister’s home, in a legal assembly overflowing the streets. Their families and friends join them, and a rabbi with a loudspeaker conduct a mass wedding ceremony. The couples invite the minister, Silvan Shalom, and Mrs. Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes as guests of honor. The couples present him with all their documents and invite him to register their marriages.
Okay – he won’t come. Do it in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and a half a million supporters will turn out. Civil revolt.
No one registers at the Interior Ministry until all can do so.
Civil revolt by peaceful means.
Call it a dream. The first rabbi to step forward can begin to make it a reality.
Avraham Avi-hai has served in the offices of prime ministers, and has written widely on Israeli and Jewish affairs. Dr. Avi-hai is a former member of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organizations as world chairman of Keren HaYesod-United Israel Appeal.