Religious Affairs Ministry to promote wedding reform

Naftali Bennett and Eli Ben Dahan announce their support of the ‘Tzohar laws’ to ease access to marriage in Israel

Illustrative photo of a couple posing for pictures before their wedding. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a couple posing for pictures before their wedding. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

The Religious Affairs Ministry will push forward marriage reform legislation in order to initiate a “revolution” in the country’s religious services, Naftali Bennett announced Sunday.

Currently, couples who wish to wed in Israel must register with the rabbinate in the city where at least one of them resides. Religious Affairs Minister Bennett and his deputy, Eli Ben Dahan, said the new legislation, known as the “Tzohar laws” — named for a Modern Orthodox group that performs alternative religious wedding ceremonies for nonreligious couples — would allow couples to register wherever they wish, “thus creating a healthy competition among religious councils,” instead of limiting them to a rabbi employed by the religious council where they live.

“This is a significant change,” Ben Dahan said. “The public will no longer be held hostage to any one religious council.” Rather, councils now will have to offer better service to the couples if they wish to earn their registration fee — some NIS 600 ($160).

The Tzohar laws would, in addition, ease the path of rabbis from that organization to perform officially recognized weddings. The state rabbinate has effectively discouraged such ceremonies by selectively enforcing that geographical restriction, since the Tzohar rabbi whom a couple has chosen to preside over its union often lives in a different town from both bride and groom.

Bennett recalled that when he registered to wed in 1999, “The rabbi who received us attempted to convince us to vote for a particular party.” Today, he said, he wants to make religious services more accessible and thereby help the general public view Judaism more positively.

“There is no competition in Judaism,” Bennett said. “But there is competition for religious services, and we are making history.”

Besides removing the restrictions as to where a couple may register to marry, the Tzohar laws would consolidate the number of religious councils in Israel, from the current 133 to about 80.

In a swipe at the ultra-Orthodox parties that were until recently in charge of religious affairs in Israel, Bennett said that “from now on appointments [to the religious councils] will be on a professional basis, not a political one.”

The legislation being promoted by Bennett and Ben Dahan comprises two bills that were first proposed in the previous government by MK Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beytenu) and Otniel Schneller, who was then an MK with the Kadima party. The bills passed the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in March 2012.

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