The Fairy Tale of 'Alternative Weddings' in Israel

The secular media's volunteering to call the Tzohar marriages 'alternative' and to lead the battle for these marriages is the whole story in a nutshell.

Oh joy and gladness in the cities of Judea: The media are telling us that the alternative wedding initiative by the Tzohar organization is up and running again, the rabbis of the organization will once again register couples for marriage and this is really terrific news for secular people. The label "alternative weddings" and the discussion of Tzohar's separate registration is making people feel there is marriage registration not at the Rabbinate, and as though these aren't the usual Orthodox Jewish weddings. But this is bunk - there are no alternative weddings, no joy and no gladness.

The weddings performed by the Tzohar rabbis are not the least bit alternative; these are Orthodox Jewish weddings exactly like those performed by the rabbis who are employed at the Rabbinate. Moreover, the registration process for marriage by Tzohar is exactly the same registration at the same Rabbinate. That is to say, everyone who marries through Tzohar is registered at the Rabbinate and pays the Rabbinate fee and is subject to all the Rabbinate's principles, exactly like people who register at the Rabbinate not through Tzohar.

Those who marry through Tzohar will have to divorce through the Rabbinate and will be entirely subject to the mercies of Rabbinical Court judges when they come to divorce. The Tzohar rabbis will not perform a marriage for anyone who does not want to register at the Rabbinate, nor do they perform marriage ceremonies for anyone who does not comply with all the rules of rabbinical law in its Orthodox interpretation.

So what is it they do? They are nice to secular people. They explain things to them in their own language and they allow the bride to give the groom a ring after he sanctifies her according to the religion of Israel and Moses - all small changes in style. In essence, this is the marriage that is not permitted to someone who is not Jewish and wants to marry someone who is; the marriage that does not allow bastards to wed, or a Cohen and a divorced woman; the hierarchical, inegalitarian marriage in which a man sanctifies a woman and not the other way around; the marriage that sees "the family" as holy in its traditional gender division of roles.

The Tzohar rabbis are not giving up the sole supremacy of Orthodoxy, they are not giving up the sole supremacy of the rabbi as an omniscient holy man who can permit or forbid another person to do something, or not to do something. They are not giving up male supremacy in marriage, in the family and in the public world; they will not allow the appointment of female rabbinical judges, they did not come out against banning women from singing and from public appearances in general.

For the sake of dispelling doubt, there is no reason to condemn Tzohar. This is an organization of Orthodox rabbis whose way and belief this is, and their intentions are good. Indeed, this is an organization that arose after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin out of the view that it is necessary to make an effort to bridge between parts of the nation that had begun to break apart. Its wedding initiative is very successful because it provides an answer to the sense of revulsion the public has toward the Rabbinate people who exploit the fact they are a monopoly in order to treat the public rudely and inconsiderately, and also to charge money illegally for conducting a wedding ceremony.

It is the state that should be condemned, for leaving the monopoly on marriage and divorce in the hands of the Rabbinate. The struggle that raged last week is a power struggle between ultra-Orthodox and strictly Orthodox national religious elements, for the heads of the secular population. Tzohar won because the Rabbinate really doesn't have any legal way to refuse them: They are rabbis, they perform marriages according to rabbinical law, they register the marriages at the Rabbinate.

It is doubtful the Rabbinate understands how good Tzohar is for them: Were it not for Tzohar, possibly the Rabbinate's insensitivity would have led some of the secular population to demand marital justice, a real alternative to marriage in Israel: civil marriage, Reform marriage, Conservative marriage, marriage in accordance with the couple's conscience and beliefs.

Anyone who is hoping marriage through Tzohar is the start of "privatization" of marriage, in the wake of which will come other rabbinical courts and truly alternative options for marriages - apparently is not cognizant of the wretchedness and cowardice of the secular, who continue to abandon their Jewish identity and their commitment contracts to the hands of anyone who bears the title "rabbi." The secular media's volunteering to call the Tzohar marriages "alternative" and to lead the battle for these marriages is the whole story in a nutshell.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: האגדה על צהר