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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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Tzohar Launches Campaign to Improve Israeli Rabbinate, Rabbinic Services

Tzohar Rabbis pose for a picture.

Tzohar Rabbis pose for a picture.
Photo Credit: Yossi Zeliger/FLASH90

The Tzohar Rabbinical Organization has launched a public information campaign designed to encourage a new approach to religious leadership within the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

The campaign, which was launched Friday, includes newspaper and bus advertisements, as well as a mission statement outlining the organization’s vision for a revised Chief Rabbinate, which will be distributed to more than 200,000 people over the weekend.

Among the items that Tzohar is calling for will be to elect new rabbinical court judges who would be more open to the needs of the general public, not just the religiously observant sectors; and new guidelines for managing the marriage, divorce and conversion processes in Israel – three areas that have been particularly alienating to secular Israelis.

“The Israeli public demands a rabbinate that responds to the needs of all Israelis and not just those of specific segments within society,” Tzohar President Rabbi David Stav said in a statement. “We need to wake up and say that now is the time to make substantial changes in the structure and mandate of the rabbinate so that it becomes an agency that is relevant for each and every Jew who calls Israel home.

“As a result of the policies of the Chief Rabbinate, restaurants across the country are foregoing kosher supervision, obstacles are being placed in front of people interested in halachic conversions, and more and more Israelis are opting for a non-Jewish marriage ceremony abroad,“ Stav added. “With this growing wave of assimilation and abandonment of Jewish tradition, the result will be a de facto detachment between the State of Israel and its Jewish identity.”

The campaign was launched on the yahrtzheit of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the historic founder of the Chief Rabbinate and widely regarded as the founding father of religious Zionism.

Tzohar, which helps to involve non-religious couples and their families in religious wedding ceremonies – marrying, free of charge, about 3,000 couples a year – had been embroiled in a fight with the Chief Rabbinate over this service. Earlier this summer, the Chief Rabbinate agreed to lift restrictions on rabbis from Tzohar and permit them to conduct weddings. In return, Tzohar pledged to withdraw a lawsuit against the Rabbinate and to try to stop legislation that would have taken away the Rabbinate’s hegemony over who conducts marriages.

The national pool of Tzohar rabbis is prepared to conduct wedding ceremonies for anyone who approaches them, without financial remuneration. These rabbis have all agreed to the following principles:

1. The Tzohar rabbi will meet with the couple for a conversation and a study session of various topics related to marriage and the wedding.
2. The rabbi will arrive on time for the chupah ceremony.
3. Tzohar rabbis do not conduct more than one wedding in the same evening.
4. Tzohar rabbis do not get paid for conducting the wedding.

And should the couple, with God’s help, bring a baby boy into the world, Tzohar offers its own Mohel service. All their mohels have earned a certification from the Ministry of Health and the Chief Rabbinate; they are experienced; they all carry medical insurance; and they all take a special Tzohar course preparing them to help non-religious families feel comfortable and connected to the ceremony. They are also available throughout the healing process, and they charge according to a set, official rate. They are also committed to arriving on time.

Tzohar rabbis are available to all Israelis, religious and otherwise, with answers regarding Bar Mitzvas, Bat Mizvas (for girls), female baby celebrations, Pidyon Ha’Ben (redemption of the first born son), Chanukat Ha’Bayit (entering a new home), and, finally, burials and mourning.

The Hebrew language website of Tzohar is chock-full of content on the groups rich activities. Unfortunately, its English language page leads, from every single menu item, to a donations page.

Probably just a temporary glitch…

JTA content was used in this report.

About the Author: Tibbi Singer is a veteran contributor to publications such as Israel Shelanu and the US supplement of Yedioth, and Jewish Business News.


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3 Responses to “Tzohar Launches Campaign to Improve Israeli Rabbinate, Rabbinic Services”

  1. I still think the best solution is to fire the Rabbinate all together. Make it a non-govermanetal post. Thus freeing politics and religious mingling.

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