Israeli couples who marry in Israel without first registering their marriage with the haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate can be sentenced to uo two years in prison, and the rabbis who perform those illegal marriage ceremonies also face the same potential two-year prison sentence. A propasal to stop this was shot down today by a near-unanimous vote of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet.
How’s This For A Wedding Gift? In Israel, If You’re Jewish And Marry Outside The Auspices Of The Haredi-Controlled Chief Rabbinate, You Could Serve 2-Years In Prison
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
How’s this for a wedding gift? Two years in prison for an illegal marriage, and it isn’t even a first cousin marriage or incest.
Israeli couples who marry in Israel without first registering their marriage with the haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate can be sentenced to uo two years in prison, and the rabbis who perform those illegal marriage ceremonies also face the same potential two-year prison sentence.
Last year, as the controversial “Tzohar Law” that reformed the marriage registration process to allow couple to choose which city’s official rabbinic registrar to use rather than be stuck with the registrar of their home community was passed, a clause was inserted into the bill by Deputy Religious Services Minister Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan at last minute to add the criminal penalties for couples who illegally marry outside the Chief Rabbinate and for the rabbis who marry them, Ha’aretz reported.
Ben-Dahan claimed he inserted the clause legislating severe criminal penalties to prevent recalcitrant husbands who refuse to grant their wives a Jewish religious divorce known as a get from marrying a second woman – something a man could do under halakha (Jewish law). A woman, however, cannot remarry or have a sexual relationship with another man until she receives her get.
Many people believe that Ben Dahan’s real intentions were to maintain the integrity and centralized power of the country’s chief rabbinate, which as a Zionist Orthodox Jew he views with theological import, and to prevent Reform and Conservative rabbis from performing weddings.
MK Aliza Lavie of the centrist largely secular Yesh Atid party recently proposed an amendment to the Tzohar Law to remove the criminal penalties originally inserted by Ben Dahan. She reportedly said her proposed amendment was “an attempt to restore sanity” to a law that had become “crazy and surreal” because of Ben Dahan.
But today her amendment was voted down by almost all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu’s cabinet.
Only two cabinet ministers supported Lavie’s amendment: Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Science Minister Yaakov Perry, both of Lavie’s Yesh Atid Party. Two other cabinet ministers abstained: Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the centrist largely secular Hatnuah Party and who is also feuding with Netanyahu; and Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat of Netanyhu’s Likud Party, who apparently would have supported Lavie’s amendment if Netanyahu would have allowed a free vote and could not in good conscience vote against it.
Voting against Lavie’s amendment were all Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ministers and all ministers from Ben Dahan’s Zionist Orthodox HaBayit HaYehudi Party, including the party’s head, Economy, Religious Services and Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett.
After the cabinet vote, Lavie reportedly expressed her frustration with the “absurd situation” in which young Israelis can be imprisoned for marrying.
“[Ben Dahan’s amendment and the cabinet’s refusal today to vote to change it] has created an absurd situation with no relation to a changing reality. An increasing number of young people are choosing to have a religious ceremony without the involvement of the rabbinate. Instead of addressing this, the rabbinate is threatening them with imprisonment,” Lavie said.
Rabbi Seth Farber, the executive director of the ITIM Advocacy Center which helps secular Israelis and converts navigate Israel’s byzantine haredi-controlled state rabbinate, helped Lavie draft the failed amendment. He attributed the results of today’s vote to the bitter feud between the Yesh Atid Party’s head, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party. He also called the Tzohar Law as it currently stands “an outrage.”
“The present law is an outrage. I am disappointed that the cabinet couldn’t look beyond petty politics in order to rectify this law which is disproportionately severe and ludicrous. Israel is now among a few select countries where it is a criminal act to perform a huppah [religious Jewish wedding ceremony],” Farber reportedly said. “We gave them a strategy to get rid of this thing, but the politics just weren’t on our side. Given the animosity between Netanyahu and Lapid, I’m not sure there was anything we could have done that would have made a difference.”
Farber said ITIM will try to get new litigation passed to protect couples who marry outside the chief rabbinate and to protect the rabbis who marry them.
So far, no rabbis or couples who have married outside the auspices of the chief rabbinate have been prosecuted.
However, this is Israel, and like many others, Farber fears that as long as Ben Dahan’s amendment remains the law, it could easily happen.
Netanyahu has been actively courting haredi political parties, trying to get them to join his coalition government now or after new snap elections, so he can push the hated Lapid and his Yesh Atid Party out of the government.
Yesh Atid has pushed legislation to force haredim to leave their yeshivas, where many men study full time well into their fifties, and join the workforce, and has also championed legislation to force haredi men to serve in the military the way all other male Jewish Israelis (and most female Jewish Israelis) do.
The two haredi political parties, UTJ and Shas, are Netanyahu's Likud Party's only natural Knesset allies.