Rabbi Detained for Performing non-Orthodox Weddings Is Suddenly in High Demand

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Rabbi Dov Haiyun officiating a wedding ceremony.
Rabbi Dov Haiyun officiating a wedding ceremony.Credit: Family's wedding album

Following his highly publicized detention last week for officiating at non-Orthodox weddings, a prominent Conservative rabbi in Israel says he has been inundated in recent days with requests from other young couples that he marry them, too.

“Eight couples have already approached me and asked that I officiate at their weddings,” Rabbi Dov Haiyun, of Moriah Congregation in Haifa, told Haaretz. “Ordinarily, I don’t get more than two requests a month, or at most, one a week. I expect that the numbers will continue growing, and all I can say is that I should probably deliver the rabbinate authorities here in Haifa a bouquet of flowers for all the good publicity they’ve given me.”

Last Thursday, Haiyun was detained for questioning by the Israel Police after a complaint was filed against him by the Rabbinical Court in Haifa for allegedly “marrying those who are not eligible to be married.” This was the first attempt to enforce a law passed in 2013 that prohibits Jewish weddings performed outside the framework of the rabbinate and carries a two-year jail sentence.

The rabbinate later clarified that the bride was suspected of being a mamzer (a person who is born of a forbidden relationship and is thus prohibited from marrying, according to halakha, Jewish religious law). Haiyun, however, said he had already checked her situation and ruled out that possibility before marrying the couple.

At 5:30 A.M., Haiyun was woken up and taken in for questioning by the police, and released immediately afterward. Subsequently Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit instructed the police to suspend their investigation.

A demonstration by Conservative and other Jews in support of Rabbi Haiyun, in Haifa on Sunday.Credit: Rami Shllush

The rabbi's interrogation, just days before the Jewish fast of Tisha B’Av (commemorating the destruction of the two temples), has drawn widespread condemnation, including in Orthodox circles. The fallout from the incident has also been financial: In recent days, many Israelis have donated small sums of money to the Conservative movement to show their support for Haiyun.

According to Yizhar Hess, executive director of the movement in Israel, thousands of shekels has thus far been raised. On Monday, the movement responded to this outpouring of solidarity by launching an official fundraising campaign. A similar effort, Hess said, has been initiated by its international sister organization, the World Masorti movement.

Meanwhile, Haiyun said that he plans to lodge an official complaint against the rabbinate in Haifa with the State Comptroller’s Office.

“The rabbinate claimed that I was trying to avoid them, when in fact I have tapes that prove that I told them exactly when I was available to meet with them,” he said. “Also, they published the names and identification numbers of the couple I married, which is an outright invasion of privacy.”

Haiyun is receiving legal representation from Rabbi Uri Regev, the executive director of Hiddush, a nonprofit that promotes freedom of religion and Jewish pluralism in Israel.

Haiyun heads a new list dedicated to religious pluralism that will run in the municipal elections in Haifa in October. “A key goal of mine will be to change the composition of the religious council in the city, and I’ve been told that’s one of the reasons the rabbinate decided to go after me,” he told Haaretz.

A long'standing member of the Labor Party who describes his politics as “center-left,” the rabbi adds that after gaining experience in city politics, he plans to make a run for the Knesset.

“It is my belief that the only way to really affect change in this country is through politics,” said Haiyun.

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