Israel Beiteinu’s MK Faina Kirshenbaum’s “Tzohar Law” passed its first reading yesterday in the Knesset by a majority of 25 to 8.
The new law will end the obligation of Jewish couples to be wedded only by the rabbi of their locale, and will permit them to choose any recognized Orthodox rabbi in the country to perform their marriage.
According to Israel Beiteinu, the purpose of the new law is “to mitigate the difficulties often associated with couples being beholden to the rabbis of their hometown.”
The law also gives a new lease on life to the moderate Orthodox organization Tzohar, which provides a more accommodating wedding experience for non-religious couples, and which has been under threat from more right wing elements associated with the chief rabbinate, which sought complete control over marriage fees.
The bill now must go through committee and then be approved by the house.
Tzohar Chairman Rabbi David Stav told the Jewish Press that despite its popular nickname, the new law is not directly connected to his organization. “It’s true that we are pleased with this law, but it’s not essentially about Tzohar but rather intends to make life easier for secular Israelis who are trapped in the maze of bureaucracy.”
Rabbi Stav explained that Tzohar rabbis have been decrying for many years the chief rabbinate bureaucracy which prevents young couples from marrying according to “the laws of Moses and Israel,” pushing them instead to seek civil marriages in nearby Cyprus.
I asked Rabbi David Stav about the notion that Tzohar rabbis employ less stringent standards regarding conversions. He disagreed with the entire proposition.
“We recognize only those conversions which the chief rabbinate recognizes,” he stated. “We do not accept conversions which the chief rabbinate has rejected.”
The problem is, Stav says, that local rabbis in various municipalities, who are paid by the state as civil servants, refuse to recognize the legitimacy of conversions which have been approved by the chief rabbinate.
“There are hundreds of thousands of Jews who must be married in their locale according to the old law, but their local rabbinate would not permit them to get married because that rabbinate does not recognize some chief rabbinate conversions,” he said.
“We are delighted that the Knesset has discovered yesterday what we’ve known for a very long time,” he added. “The majority of Israel’s public wants a halachic wedding, but is asking not to be encumbered with needless obstacles.”
Rabbi Stav emphasized that all the rabbis associated with Tzohar who conduct marriage ceremonies received their ordination from the chief rabbinate and operate within strict halachic guidelines.
“In the Tzohar rabbis’ approach to marriages there isn’t even a smidgen of levity or allowance for shortcuts,” he stressed. “There is no halachic disagreement here whatsoever. The differences are in our more personal approach. We view our role as a holy mission, to bring the secular Israeli society closer to the institution of halachic marriages.”
Rabbi Stav criticized voices in the Lithuanian yeshiva world which warned that Tzohar rabbis would be lighter on halachic requirements, saying there was no basis in reality for such allegations.
“The big change ushered by this law is in regard to registration for marriage,” said Rabbi Chaim Navon, a congregation Rav in Modiin and member of the Tzohar organization, who also spoke to the Jewish Press about the new bill.
“Even before a couple chooses which rabbi would officiate at their wedding, they must register to marry at the Rabbinate office in their home town. To date, that same rabbinate also has the power to approve or disqualify the officiating rabbi. The new law will allow the couple to register anywhere they want in the country.”
This means that if their local rabbinate is too strict in the couple’s opinion, they are free to register elsewhere.
Rabbinic strictness, said Navon, is expressed in the local office’s views on standards of giurim (Jewish conversions), as well as on which Orthodox rabbis are acceptable to conduct the chupa ceremony.
“The bill received the nickname ‘Tzohar Law’ because some rabbinate offices around the country have been preventing rabbis affiliated with Tzohar from conducting marriages.”
The new law still maintains the complete adherence to Jewish Halacha of the officiating rabbis.