Chief Rabbi Lobbies Israel MKs to Reject New Marriage Law

Rabbi Yona Metzger sends letter outlining the negative consequences of the 'Tzohar bill'; says legislation potentially disastrous.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger on Thursday contacted all 120 MKs and urged them to reject a Knesset bill that would grant couples the freedom to choose the rabbinate office where they marry.

Acknowledging that it was unusual for a chief rabbi to intervene in a political issue, Metzger wrote a letter outlining the negative consequences of the so-called "Tzohar bill," proposed by MK Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu). At present, couples are affiliated to rabbinate offices according to their place of residence.

Rabbi Yona Metzger, left, with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef - Daniel Bar-On
Daniel Bar-On

Metzger wrote he was approaching the MKs "from heart to heart" in an effort to halt the legislation. The bill is named after an organization of modern Orthodox rabbis that has offered to perform marriages to Jewish couples wishing to wed in Israel. There is no Jewish civil marriage within Israel.

Metzger characterized the legislation, which would amend the Marriage Law, as potentially disastrous. He said it would result in the birth of children who were deemed "mamzerim" under Jewish religious law, a status that limits their right to marry other Jews.

"I am contacting you with an emotional plea," Metzger wrote, "out of a deep concern for the wholeness and unity of our people." He invited the MKs to meet with him individually, and wrote that there were other changes that could be made to the marriage registration in what he called a "controlled and responsible manner."

The "Tzohar bill" received preliminary approval by the Knesset at the end of December, garnering broad-based support from both coalition parties and the opposition following a cabinet decision to support it.

In response to Metzger's letter yesterday, Kirshenbaum said: "The Knesset, and not the chief rabbinate, is still the legislative entity in the State of Israel. We will demand that the bill go to the Constitution, Justice and Law Committee to ensure that it is passed quickly."

Metzger hinted in his letter that he would be amenable to rival legislation on the subject, sponsored by Kadima MK Otniel Schneller. That bill, which passed preliminary reading but has been stalled in the Knesset's Interior and Environment Committee for more than 18 months, is considered more permissive than Kirshenbaum's in relaxing rules on bringing witnesses or couples certifying that they are not already married.