Bennett, who serves as both economy minister and religious services minister, and his deputy Eli Ben-Dahan, said they would open registration areas for marriage, allowing every couple to register at the place it chooses. According to Bennett, the "revolution" will create a healthy competition between religious councils and prompt them to provide better service to the public.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, said in response that "the only revolution that can cure the religious services crisis in Israel is annulling the Orthodox monopoly and giving the Jewish public in Israel a real option to choose between communities, circles and different denominations in Judaism."
He referred to the "revolution" declared by the minister as "nothing more than a cosmetic facelift," saying that "it will not solve the distress of hundreds of thousands of Israelis disqualified from marriage, or allow a sane conversion in Israel, or reflect the fact that millions of Jews belong to the non-Orthodox streams."
'Move stems from feelings of inferiority'
Even stronger opposition to Bennett's reform was voiced by the Orthodox camp. Knesset Member Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) said that "any reform in religion takes us back to the proclamation issued by Jerusalem's rabbis, who declared a fast 92 years ago upon the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate and warned against any change sought to be made, as the entire goal is to bring about changes in the laws of the Torah and breach the walls of the Jewish religion.
"On issues related to the foundation of the Jewish people, we must not make any changes under the guise of simplifying bureaucracy. Today we are talking about technical relief, tomorrow it will be – God forbid – a breach in Jewish tradition."
Fellow faction member, MK Moshe Gafni, expressed his reservations over the planned changes too. "There is no such thing in this country that a citizen who wants to arrange his business can do it outside his residential area," he said. "The sensitive issue of marriage and divorce is as important as an identity card, passport or any change in the citizen's personal status which he must take care of in his residential area."
He added that merging local councils was "a serious move stemming from Religious Service Minister Naftali Bennett's feelings of inferiority. The Knesset has tried to unite small local authorities for years, unsuccessfully. And even in the few cases it succeeded, the Knesset eventually canceled the move through registration and the authorities were re-separated. If there is a plan to unite religious councils, the move must be applied to all authorities – not just the religious councils.
"Bennett's move, several days after he voted in the government in favor of critical and disproportional damage to the budgets of Torah institutions, including the institutions he represents, will harm the service to the citizen.
"He wants to appear nice, but his statement that this move will be three times more effective than the seaport revolution is a ridiculous statement which demonstrates his misapprehension of basic processes taking place in the State of Israel," said Gafni.
'Minister's control of religious councils maintained'
Rabbi Uri Regev, CEO of Hiddush - Freedom of Religion for Israel , welcomed the acknowledgement of the need for an urgent and comprehensive change in religious services in Israel, and Bennett and Ben-Dahan's willingness to initiate these changes.
"Nonetheless," he said, "the suggested changes appear to deal with the margins rather than with the core of the problem, and are aimed at perpetuating the Orthodox control of religious life."
According to Regev, "Opening registration areas for marriage is a trick aimed at dealing with religious councils which have shut themselves off to the changes of time, and the refusal and extremism of certain city rabbis, who don't even recognize conversions conducted by the Chief Rabbinate.
"The only proper response in democracy, which the majority of the public supports – is freedom of choice in marriage, and cancelling an obsessive rabbinate on behalf of the State."
Regev added that "a partial merger of religious councils and narrowing them down from 130 to 80, is the wrong move. Instead of handing the religious services over to the local authorities, like culture and social services, they will strengthen a parallel establishment which detaches the religious services from the local authority instead of bringing them closer."
According to Regev, "The slogans about separating religious services from politics and appointing professional search committees is aimed at harming the haredi parties and guaranteeing the religious services minister's control over the appointment of religious council heads. Israel needs a fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence's promise for freedom of religion and equality, not a continuation of the politization of religion."
Solution to converts' problems?
The Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah religious-Zionist movement congratulated the religious services minister and his deputy for adopting what it said was the movement's proposal to open marriage registration areas.
"This will lead, directly, to the opening of the marriage market for competition and to a solution to converts' problems," the movement said in a statement, but criticized the reform in selecting religious council heads.
"We are against turning religious council heads from elected representatives to officials appointed by the ministry. This will tighten the monopoly over religious services in Israel and contradicts the recommendations of public committees… The proposal strengthens the religious affairs minister's control over the appointment of religious council heads instead of strengthening the wide public and communities."
'Orthodox monopoly immoral'
MK Aliza Lavi (Yesh Atid) expressed her hope that "this is the beginning of a systematic, comprehensive and inevitable change in religious services in Israel, rather than just statements.
"We must continue working on many issues requiring change, like conversion, rabbinical courts, kashrut and more, in order to return Judaism to the Israelis."
The Masorti Movement said in a statement that "the Jewish people got married and divorced before the Chief Rabbinate was founded, and did it pretty well. The monopoly threatens the nation's unity and prevents Jews from marrying according to Jewish law."
The movement's CEO, Yizhar Hess, said that "seculars who swear allegiance to Tzohar rabbis should criticize themselves first. The Orthodox monopoly is immoral, even when it immerses in a rhetoric of the love of Israel."
The Tzohar rabbis' organization, which performs thousands of wedding ceremonies a year, congratulated the minister and his deputy on the reform. "The Tzohar organization has been working for years among decision makers to open marriage registration areas," the organization said in a statement.
"The reform presented today will make things easier for Israel's citizens and lead to a competition between marriage registration bureaus in favor of Israel's citizens."