Religious Services Minister Yakov Margi and Tzohar Chairman Rabbi David Stav reached a series of understandings on Wednesday evening, allowing the Modern Orthodox organization's rabbis to resume their wedding project.
The talks between the parties began in the early afternoon hours, concluding with a private meeting between Margi and Stav at the Knesset.
Many lawmakers and activists took part in the mediation attempts, but the breakthrough appears to have been reached by Knesset Member Fania Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu).
The details are still unclear as a final agreement has yet to be reached, but one of the options raised during the meeting was advancing a bill initiated by MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima),
which seeks to cancel regional marriage registrations. Margi confirmed to Ynet that he has no objections to this proposal.
Should the bill be supported by the Shas
faction and adopted by the Knesset, Israeli citizens will be allowed to marry in any local rabbinate and not just in the community they reside in.
Such a situation would allow Stav, the Rabbi of Shoham, to register the marriage of any couple marrying through Tzohar in the regional council.
The parties agreed that until the law is approved, Tzohar rabbis will continue registering marriages, and the Religious Services Ministry will continue turning a blind eye to the unusual registration figures in Shoham.
Earlier this week, the Tzohar rabbis' organization decided to stop performing wedding ceremonies,
pointing a finger at Minister of Religious Services Margi. The latter has decided to fight back.
"The public is being misled and ridiculed," Margi argued in a conversation with Ynet, which revealed the wedding project's grim situation
According to the minister, there were flaws in the marriage registration, which led the state comptroller to launch an investigation – and there was no choice but to deal with the issue.
Margi claimed that although he would rather have all marriages registered in the Rabbinate, he was not ignoring the public's desire to seek other options and planned to regulate it subject to the law.
He stated that there was no discrimination between Tzohar and private rabbinical courts which register marriages.
The religious services minister stated that "there was no attempt to shut down Tzohar," adding that although the enforcement of regulations began eight months ago, he postponed the reduction in the number of marriage certificates used by the organization until after the High Holidays "so as not to cause trouble during the summer, when everyone gets married."
"I'm only trying to clean up the system and provide service, but we need some transparency here," the minister said. "A marriage certificate is not Yakov Margi's piece of paper, but a legal document of the State of Israel."
Margi noted that he had offered Tzohar rabbis an alternative solution – allowing their representatives in every community to register local residents' marriages without forcing them to visit the local rabbinate – but that the organization rejected the suggestion and chose to launch a personal campaign against him through the media.
Tzohar officials rejected the claim, saying that the suggestion never matured into a real solution for their problems.
Meanwhile, the Tzohar wedding crisis has sparked a row within the political arena. According to Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni,
"The Rabbinate is suffocating the blessed activity of Tzohar rabbis, who are bringing secular and traditional young people closer to Judaism, significantly helping prevent the Israeli society from turning into a society of detached groups."
Livni added that Tzohar rabbis must be bolstered, rather than cut off from budgets and quotas. "Whoever cares about Judaism understands this very well," she said.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi
faction, said he planned to recruit the government ministers to further legislation which would guarantee the wedding project's existence.
"Canceling Tzohar's flagship project is as serious as the evacuation of outposts," he claimed. "How can a Jewish and Zionist state stop an initiative bringing people closer together and preventing civil marriage?"
Even Knesset Member Chaim Amsellem (Shas)
joined the critics, claiming that the Religious Service Ministry's decision was "another step in making religion hateful and widening the gaps and disputes in Israel."
According to Amsellem, it's ironic that "those who strongly object to the civil marriage law are the ones causing hundreds and thousands of Israelis to use that method only to marry."
The young generation of the Likud party send a letter to Margi, stating that "in a society in which Judaism is being trampled, we must fight for every man and woman interested in being married according to Jewish Law, and ensure that they receive all the conditions to do so in the most accessible way, which does not contradict the definitions of Halacha.
"We believe that the honorable minister, who cherishes the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, will find the right formula to restore matters to the way they were."
Bnei Akiva Secretary-General Danny Hirshberg added, "The Bnei Akiva movement shares Tzohar rabbis' statement and calls on the State's authorities not to cut off our graduates – Religious Zionism rabbis – from Jewish life activities. This will harm the entire Israeli public and the role the Torah plays in our lives."
Hiddush – Freedom of Religion for Israel said in response, "Shas and the Religious Services Ministry are not missing any opportunity to make the public hate Judaism and drift away from it.
"Even when a group of Orthodox rabbis tries to present an embracing type of Judaism, they conduct a targeted assassination. It's hard to believe that this is just a petty rivalry over the marrying couples' money."
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Religious Action Center, added: "In recent years, Tzohar rabbis have become the fig leaf of a rotten and corrupt establishment, and therefore they have no one to complain against but themselves.
"Its time for these to direct their public courage at real change in the relations of state and religion in Israel and at conducting civil marriage, rather than performing 'slightly nicer' ceremonies sponsored by the rabbinical establishment."