The flagship project of the Tzohar organization - performing thousands of wedding ceremonies a year - is in danger of shutting down because the chief rabbinate and Ministry of Religious Services have stopped providing the movement with marriage certificates, Ynet has learned.
The rabbinate said that the move was legal but sources in Tzhoar are infuriated with the changed policy, which they believe seeks to harm them. In a letter the organization sent to its volunteers, a copy of which was obtained by Ynet, it is claimed that the decision will push thousands of secular couples to wed in civil marriage and even to assimilate.
The law states that in Israel, marriage registration is regional as couples must register via the local rabbinate where the bride or groom reside. Since the establishment of the state, the chief rabbinate has allowed several private religious courts – especially in haredi circles known as 'Badatz' – to independently register couples for marriage as a local branch of the rabbinate.
Over the years, the phenomenon grew and has become a prosperous industry, as these courts enable couples to register even if they do not live in the jurisdiction of the rabbinate the religious court belongs to. Although it is against the law, the chief rabbinate and the Ministry of Religious Services have turned a blind eye to the phenomenon.
Two years ago, Tzohar rabbis began to register newlyweds according to this format, as a branch of the rabbinate in Shoham – where the organization's chairman, Rabbi David Stav, is a local rabbi.
Tzohar explained that many secular couples do not settle for having a Tzhoar rabbi perform their wedding but also want no contact with the official rabbinical establishment, and therefore the adoption of the illegal religious court method was unavoidable.
Another reason behind Tzohar's decision to register couples via the Shoham rabbinate was the refusal of many city rabbis (who also serve as wedding registrars) to allow the organization's rabbis to officiate in weddings of its residents.
'Pushing secular people to assimilate'In recent months, Religious Services Minister Yakov Margi has instructed his office to cease issuing additional wedding certificates to the Shoham rabbinate, beyond a quantity that is sufficient for residents of the local council. Needless to say, the number is much lower than the thousands of couples that do it with Tzohar.
Furthermore, Tzohar claims that it has been ages since the rabbinate committee approved one of its rabbis.
The organization is blaming Minister Margi, accusing him of an attempt to strangle and eliminate its wedding project, while pushing thousands of couples a year to wed in civil marriages and even to assimilate. They are currently mulling whether to launch a public campaign to save the project.
Speaking to Ynet, a senior rabbinate official attacked Tzohar and said, "It is not clear if they really live with a sense of persecution or they are adopting a tactic of being deprived."
He claimed that the rabbinate has gone a long way for Tzohar, approving rabbis who do not fit the criteria to hold chuppas and other matters concerning its wedding project.
However, he said the rabbinate can no longer continue turning a blind eye to the growing number of couples who do not live in Shoham but register there because the matter is being examined by the State Comptroller.
The official acknowledged however that the rabbinate was wrong by allowing private haredi religious courts to register any person for marriage and expressed concern that the discrimination between these courts and Tzohar will not withstand a petition to the High Court of Justice.
The Ministry of Religious Services said in response, "Minister Yaakov Margi operates according to the 'marriage and divorce – registration' regulation and according to the chief rabbinate's guidelines. The claim that the minister is the one who decides in this matter is irrelevant."
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