The Tzohar rabbis' organization is shutting down its flagship marriage project.
The Modern Orthodox organization's management has announced that its volunteer rabbis can no longer register and wed couples – mostly secular – following the Religious Services Ministry's decision to significantly reduce the number of marriage certificates allotted to Tzohar, as first reported by Ynet.
Starting Tuesday morning, couples telephoning the Tzohar offices in a bid to register their marriage can listen to a recorded message from the organization's CEO, Moshe Be'eri, in which he blames Minister of Religious Services Yakov Margi for the situation and suggests that the couples contact the minister's office and try to convince him to renege on his decision.
According to Tzohar, due to "economic and political considerations" and "following pressures", Margi announced that he would be allotting only 200 marriage certificates a year to the Shoham Regional Council, which most Tzohar couples (about 2,000) marry through.
The organization has also accused the minister of seeking to "shut down Tzohar's wedding project, causing thousands of secular couples to marry in Cyprus or in Reform wedding ceremonies."
Tzohar's chairman, Rabbi David Stav, said in response: "Minister Margi is literally leading to the assimilation of the Jewish people. So many times I have heard the saying, 'Either Tzohar or Cyprus,' from couples who informed me they would not set foot in the Rabbinate under any circumstances."
Stav implied that other rabbis were driven by materialism and that Margi was acting under conflicting interests. "Tzohar, in its pleasant approach, which aims to bring people closer while maintaining Halacha, threatens the livelihood of rabbis who view secular couples as an inexhaustible source of income.
"One cannot even describe the damage caused to the Jewish people and to the State's identity now that masses of couples will be marrying against Orthodox Jewish Law.
"Minister Margi is virtually pushing them, their children, their grandchildren and their great grandchildren out of the people of Israel, and I certainly hope that the rabbinical and political establishments come to their senses and help us create a real, connecting meeting point in the Israeli society, rather than separation and destruction."
The Tzohar wedding initiative was closed mainly due to a bureaucratic hurdle. The law states that marriage registration in Israel
is regional, forcing couples to register through the local rabbinate in the jurisdiction of the bride or groom-to-be's place of residence.
Since the State's establishment, the Rabbinate has allowed several private rabbinical courts – first those affiliated with the Eda Haredit faction and later those belonging to other ultra-Orthodox communities – to register marriages on their own, viewing each one as a branch of the Rabbinate.
Over the years, the phenomenon expanded, turning into a thriving industry, and the private rabbinical courts began approving the registration of all couples – even if they did not live within the jurisdiction of the rabbinate the court was affiliated with. Although this is against the law, the Chief Rabbinate and Religious Services Ministry turned a blind eye.
About two years ago, Tzohar rabbis began using the same method to register marriages – as a branch of the Shoham Rabbinate, where Stav serves as the local rabbi.
Tzohar explained that many secular couples do not settle for the organization's rabbis performing their wedding ceremony, but also ask to be married without having any contact with the official rabbinical establishment. The Rabbinate turned a blind eye in this case too – until now.
Margi's office rejected Tzohar's claims, saying that the minister was not preventing the Shoham Rabbinate from receiving marriage certificates: "On the contrary, the Shoham Rabbinate receives more marriage certificates than it needs.
"Minister Margi has met with Rabbi David Stav several times, and a suggestion was made that the minister would instruct all religious councils in Israel to accept Tozhar rabbis, who have been approved by the Chief Rabbinate, as officials entitled to conduct wedding ceremonies. But Tzohar members refused, stating that they would launch a media battle against the minister and his office."