The Chief Rabbinate has expressed concern over a new government initiative, aimed at turning Israel into a single marriage registration zone, fearing it may encourage assimilation.
According to the new initiative, couples who wish to get married would be able to use the services of the rabbinate bureau of their choice, and will no longer be restricted to the bureau which oversees the residential area under which they appear in the Ministry of Interior records.
"Since the entire system has been computerized, it makes no sense to prevent young couples who want to get married to choose where they want to register," said Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel.
Yehezkel reportedly approached Minister of Religious Affairs Yitzhak Cohen on the matter last week, and asked him to implement the new regulation.
Duties of a gatekeeper
Should the new initiative go through, say many rabbis, the newfound registry freedoms may cause an increase in assimilation: The marriage registrar in every city is called "the gatekeeper," meaning he is the one who is tasked with finding out whether or not those registering are single and Jewish.
In many cases, couples – especially Jewish immigrants – find themselves facing being sent back and forth, forces to present various documents proving there are indeed Jews, and although some give in and produce whatever proof necessary, redundant as it may be; others give up, opting for a civil ceremony instead.
"It's a well known fact that some marriage registrars are more strict than others," said a marriage registrar from central Israel. "It's a very sensitive matter."
Minister Cohen, however, was adamant that no reform in the marriage registry would be made possible without the rabbis' consent; adding that "We cannot allow assimilation." The Chief Rabbinate announced Sunday that it would take the matter up with the (Shas) Sages Council.
The cabinet secretary, however, rejected the claims: "I hold the Halacha and the Sages Council in the highest regard, but when it comes to logistic changes in a service provided to the public the State will have the final say.
"I'm sorry to learn that people who have been properly converted by the religious establishment are so poorly treated in some places. If by chance, the proposed change will fix this problem as well, it would be a blessing," said Yehezkel.
Itamar Eichner and Natasha Mozgovaya contributed to this report