'I'm not a criminal,' rabbi protests from police station

In pre-dawn move, police nab, grill Conservative rabbi over weddings he conducts

Dov Haiyun says officers arrived at door of his Haifa home at 5 a.m. to haul him in; rabbinate says he officiated at wedding for Jew born of extramarital affair

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Rabbi Dov Haiyun (Facebook)
Rabbi Dov Haiyun (Facebook)

A Conservative rabbi was hauled in by police before dawn on Thursday for questioning over wedding ceremonies he conducts outside the state-run Chief Rabbinate, in a radical departure from the state’s longstanding non-enforcement of the issue.

Police knocked on Rabbi Dov “Dubi” Haiyun’s door in the northern city of Haifa around 5 a.m. to bring him in for interrogation, following a complaint by a local rabbinical court, according to a spokesperson for the Masorti Movement in Israel, which is analogous to the US Conservative Movement.

The rabbinical court spokesperson, in a statement, accused Haiyun of performing a wedding of a Jew born of an extramarital affair, known as a mamzer.

Haiyun, who has been officiating at non-Orthodox weddings in Israel for decades, was released several hours later after committing to appear for another round of questioning on Monday, the spokesperson said. Police later called off Monday’s interrogation, saying the rabbi would be summoned again if the investigation required it.

In a statement, police said they were forced to come to Haiyun’s house after the Conservative rabbi ignored a summons to appear for questioning earlier in the week. Officers were merely executing a rabbinical court order to question Haiyun, the force said, adding that the Israel Police was not independently taking action on the issue.

“I am not a felon, not a murderer, not a criminal,” said Haiyun, who described the incident as “unpleasant.”

“It’s hard to think of an action that is less Jewish, on the eve of Tisha B’av,” he added. “The police have been dragged into serving the Orthodox rabbinical court. This is a sad day for Israeli democracy.”

“Iran is here!” posted Haiyun on Facebook from the police station.

Rabbi Dov Haiyun, in a police car after being hauled in for questioning over his officiation of weddings outside the Chief Rabbinate on July 19, 2018 (courtesy)

A spokesperson for the rabbinical courts accused Haiyun of performing weddings for couples who are prevented from marrying under Jewish law (a class that includes Kohanim, or those of the priestly caste, who wish to marry divorcees or converts; children born of extramarital affairs; etc.), calling the practice “criminal and illegal.”

“Rabbi Haiyun married a couple in which one of them was a mamzer [a child born to a married woman through an extramarital affair], which both Judaism and the [Israeli] law gravely forbid,” the rabbinical courts later added.

“Moreover, he avoided formalizing the registration, as the law requires,” the spokesperson said.

Israel’s rabbinate oversees all personal status issues for Jews, including marriage and divorce, and does not recognize civil unions conducted in the country, or ceremonies performed by non-Orthodox officiators. Though performing such ceremonies is illegal and carries a prison sentence, the ban on the practice is not enforced by police. In recent years, some Orthodox rabbis have also stepped up private ceremonies outside the rabbinate.

Haiyun’s attorney, Uri Regev, said he would protest the police conduct to Israel’s attorney general. Regev, the head of the Hiddush religious pluralism NGO, said that in the past, the state attorney had informed him in writing that the enforcement of the law banning non-rabbinate weddings would apply only to those marriages that could be recognized by the rabbinate, namely Orthodox ceremonies.

Haiyun was set to arrive at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon to give a lecture in honor of Sunday’s Tisha B’av fast.

His questioning was swiftly condemned by Israeli lawmakers from the opposition.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid branded it the “madness of Haredi coercion.”

“A rabbi was arrested [sic] in the State of Israel because he married two people,” Lapid told Israel Radio. “The ultra-Orthodox have decided to show that they control the country. We will stand behind Rabbi Haiyun, this is a disgrace ”

“This is not Iran!” tweeted Labor party leader Avi Gabbay, calling on the police chief to investigate the incident and ensure “that the first case is also the last.”

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