"The problem with you," Rabbi Yona Metzger once told me, "is that you do not keep accurate records of the couples you marry. If you keep going like this, within two or three generations we won't know who's married to whom."
No problem, I told him. I will be glad to maintain such records. Moreover, I am willing to entrust them in your hands. You will receive everything in an orderly manner – the name of the bride, the name of the groom, the names of the parents; everything you need.
"Wonderful idea," the rabbi said with great excitement, "I'll give you a call and we'll discuss it." Ever since then I haven't heard from him, of course.
For years now I've been conducting the wedding ceremonies of couples who chose to avoid the Rabbinate, and for years now I've been trying to explain that this is not a demonstrative act. In every single one of the weddings I conducted, I spoke before the bride and groom arrived, and told the guests in attendance the same three statements: "We are not here today because we are against someone. We have no interest in arguing with anyone. According to Judaism, two witnesses are enough to render a marriage valid, and the person who conducts the ceremony does not have to be a rabbi. Moreover, King David was not married by a rabbi; therefore, the young couple is married in the eyes of God and man.
This is followed by all the Jewish rituals and blessings, as we thank God for creating love. This is a wonderful idea in my view. The thought that God did not only create the earth, and stones, and Shas Knesset members, but also the abstract things: Love, friendship, and joy.
And if someone thinks this wedding ceremony is invalid, they should not be counting on what I'm saying here – instead, open a copy of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, where one will find a detailed and thorough explanation of how to conduct a Jewish wedding ceremony. You will discover all sorts of beautiful things written by Maimonides, but as you keep reading you will discover that one thing is missing there: Maimonides did not think that everything hinged on the arrival of a representative of the Rabbinate, who expects to receive an envelope containing dollars at the end of the event. According to Maimonides, those who conduct the ceremony are the couple, with a little help from their parents.
Now, you decide which authority on Jewish Law you prefer to listen to – Eli Yishai or Maimonides. Because before someone decides to zealously speak in praise of marriage "in accordance with the religion of Moses and Israel," one would do well to keep in mind that both Moses and Israel (that is, Jacob) married gentiles.
After all, it isn't Jewish Law that our rabbis are concerned with, but rather, they are concerned for their business. The Chief Rabbinate's offices cost us NIS 20 million (roughly $5 million) a year, and we spend NIS 350 million (approximately $90 million) on religious services (not including the funding granted to synagogues, religious councils, and rabbinical courts which are budgeted separately.) To this, add the NIS 600 (roughly $150) marriage license fee, and the giant and flourishing kosher-certificate industry at banquet halls – someone may even ask what exactly they're doing with all this money.
This money is the only reason why they continue to abuse hundreds of thousands of people while showing rudeness and indifference, and without showing even a hint of the mercy that is the essence of Judaism.
After all, the famous "partnership covenant" is not designated for religious Jews in any case. Only 58% of Israeli couples get married in line with religious law. Nearly half the population – all of whom are Israeli citizens – do not belong to any category that is recognized by the Rabbinate. Aren't we responsible for their fate? Isn't it the State's job to provide them with a fair solution? And what do our rabbis know about themselves that makes them believe nobody would want to use them unless they are forced to do so?
Two personal clarifications on the same matter:
1. Every time this issue came up, quite a few couples turned to me and asked that I conduct their wedding ceremony. I thanked them, but in the past two years I only conduct the ceremonies of people who suffer from a mental disability or Down's Syndrome, as the Rabbinate refuses to marry them.
2. Just so nobody suspects me, heaven forbid, of promoting my personal business enterprise via a news website – this is not a business. I never took a penny from any couple I married. The very idea seems odd to me. The reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself.