If the Knesset passes a bill to open new regional offices for marriage registration, as expected, it will be without the support of Israel’s two chief rabbis. Two months ago, during its first meeting under newly-elected rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, the chief rabbinical council decided to call on the Knesset to reject the bill, labeled the “Tzohar bill," after a religious organization that promotes ”dialogue and the search for common elements of identity” among Jews in Israel.
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The chief rabbinate has expressed disappointment over the expected passage of the bill and complained that Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett and his deputy, Eli Ben Dahan, did not take their opinion into account. The bill will not be supported by MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judiasm), who has demanded that criminal sanctions be leveled against Orthodox rabbis who hold private marriage ceremonies outside the auspices of the chief rabbinate.
The chief rabbinate rejected the idea of opening regional marriage registration offices when it first came up in 2011. Currently, registration for marriage in Israel is done by region; couples can only register with their local religious authority.
Following many cases in which local religious authorities refused to register converts to Judiasm for marriage and created other difficulties for Jewish couples to wed, the idea that was floated hat couples should be allowed to register at the office of their choosing. Attempts to legislate this idea have gained momentum since the previous Religious Services minister revoked Tzohar's authority to register couples for marriage, a privilege that has in the past only been granted to ultra-Orthodox institutions.
In the meantime, Tzohar has regained the ability to register couples in multiple regions, but the new bill would grant that same ability to rabbis throughout Israel.