Israeli Government Committee Backs 'Tzohar Rabbis Bill'

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The Ministerial Committee for Legislation Sunday decided to support legislation that would facilitate marriage among Jews who wish to avoid dealing with certain Orthodox rabbinical institutions, by allowing couples to register to marry in the rabbinical court of their choice.

The bill, sponsored by Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu ), would, in effect, enable Israelis who converted to Judaism in the army, or who prefer not to have dealings with the Chief Rabbinate, to use the services of Tzohar, an organization of modern Orthodox rabbis, instead of having to register with the local rabbinate. A similar bill, sponsored by Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi ), was also approved by the ministerial committee.

A wedding taking place under the auspices of Tzohar in November, 2011.Credit: Nir Keidar

The so-called Tzohar bill was referred to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to support the initiative and to persuade Shas ministers to remove their objections.

The Knesset is expected to hold a preliminary vote on the proposal next Wednesday.

At present, couples wishing to marry must register at their local rabbinate, but following cases in which local rabbis refused to register couples for various reasons - among them, the controversial IDF conversion process - lawmakers considered changing the regulations and allowing couples to register wherever they wish.

In practice, some private organizations, including Tzohar, are already allowed to register marriages, but a recent crisis prompted the Chief Rabbinate to temporarily cancel Tzohar's permit to do so.

After a public outcry, rabbis belonging to the Tzohar organization, led by its chairman, Rabbi David Stav of Shoham, were permitted to continue registration, while a new bill was being formulated.

Last week, Netanyahu met with Interior Minister Eli Yishai and asked him to try to convince Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas' spiritual leader, to support the Yisrael Beiteinu bill. But yesterday Shas' ministers declared that they wouldn't support the proposal, despite supporting a similar bill sponsored by Otniel Schneller (Kadima ).

Netanyahu was forced to act after Kirshenbaum vowed to present her proposal to the Knesset even before the ministerial committee debated it; in such a case, Yisrael Beiteinu would have supported it, possibly sparking a coalition crisis.

Following the committee's support of the legislation, Kirshenbaum said it represents "a real revolution and substantially facilitates marital procedures. The bill solves the problems of those who were converted to Judaism by the IDF, as well as the Tzohar rabbis' crisis."

The Tzohar organization praised Kirshenbaum, Yisrael Beiteinu and the government for their "unequivocal support of the organization and its desire to conduct weddings with love and according to halakha (Jewish law )."

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