Israel Detains Conservative Rabbi for Performing non-Orthodox Weddings

Rabbinical Court files complaint against Rabbi Dov Haiyun ■ Police backtrack after reports ■ 'Police serve as tools for the ayatollahs in Israel,' rabbi says

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Israeli police detained on Thursday a Conservative rabbi who presided over non-Orthodox weddings. 

Rabbi Dov Haiyun of Moriah Congregation in Haifa was ordained by the Conservative movement, which is not recognized by Israel's Chief Rabbinate. He was detained following a complaint filed against him by the Rabbinical Court in Haifa for allegedly "marrying those who are not eligible to be married."

The incident was the first time police attempted to enforce a 2013 law forbidding performing weddings outside the Rabbinate, a law carrying a sentence of up to two years in prison.

Rabbi Dov Haiyun.Credit: rami shllush

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Haiyun was taken to a police station and released after signing a document promising to report for questioning on Monday.

Following the reports, Attorney General instructed police not to question Haiyun. Police דubsequently told Haiyun that he would not need to return for questioning, as he was asked to do on Thursday. He will instead be summoned if necessary, police said. 

Haiyun said was awoken by policemen knocking on his door without warning at 5:30 A.M. "Unfortunately, the nice young policemen serve as tools for the ayatollahs in Israel," he said. He signed a statement promising to return on Monday, he said. 

While at the police station, Haiyun wrote a Facebook post declaring that "Iran is already here!!!" and urging people to share the post.

Police said Haiyun had been asked to come in for questioning on Wednesday and failed to do so, prompting investigators to go to his home. 

"If they arrest me, they need to arrest everyone who conducts non-Orthodox weddings, including MK Yair Lapid and [media personality] Avri Gilad," Haiyun said, adding that he performs wedding in compliance with Jewish law. "There is no deception here and everyone who comes to me knows about it."

Haiyn added that "it's not pleasant to be dragged out of bed and interrogated over carrying out weddings according to Jewish law. I'm not a criminal or a murderer," said the rabbi, whose congregation is the oldest Conservative synagogue in Israel.

The complaint against Haiyun that prompted police involvement was apparently a wedding he conducted two years ago for a woman whom the Rabbinate ruled was ineligible for marriage according to Jewish law. 

Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative movement in Israel, slammed the police action as "an outrage that shows how drunk with power the Rabbinical Court is."

The Reform Movement in Israel demanded that the attorney general put a stop to the "disgraceful" investigation. 

The investigation is another sign of the belligerence  displayed by the Israeli Rabbinate - backed by elements in government - toward Conservative and Reform Judaism, the Reform movement said. It added that this aggressive behavior will not deter it: ultimately it will lead the Orthodox monopoly to collapse, the Reform movement said.

Haiyun's lawyer, Rabbi Uri Regev -- who heads the movement for religious freedom and equality Hiddush -- said he planned to vigorously protest to the attorney general and the police the fact that law enforcement has been placed at the disposal of the Rabbinate in its struggle against religious freedom and freedom of conscience in Israel.

Uri Keidar, executive director of Israel Hofsheet ("Be Free Israel"), said: "Every year tens of thousands of Israelis marry outside the Rabbinate, voting no-confidence in this corrupt institution, which only exists by virtue of cowardly politicians afraid to show leadership, and enable civil marriage in Israel," Keidar said. "The only option is to immediately create a civil marriage law. We have no more time for bypasses. A bill to enable civil marriage will be presented to the Knesset at the very start of the winter session. We will see who supports Israelis and who supports the Rabbinate."

The Rabbincial Courts Authority said in response: "At issue is a person who married those who are not eligible to be married, which is a criminal offense." The Authority added that Haiyun married a couple, one of whom was a mamzer (a person born from certain forbidden relationships and who is therefore banned from marrying according to halakha.)

The Israel Police responded that it was enforcing the law and that any complaints about the issue should be directed at those who decide on the law and not those who are bound to enforce it.

According to the 2013 law, a person who officiates at the wedding of a couple that is not authorized [by the Rabbinate] to marry can be sentenced to six months in prison. In addition a person who conducts a wedding is legally bound to register it and failure to do is an offense that carries a two-year prison sentence.

A source at the Rabbincal Courts Authority told Haaretz that in the past most of the complaints about failure to register marriages were directed at Orthodox rabbis, but the police have been lax in following up. "This time the police were very efficient -- it's not clear why," said the source.

One senior rabbi said that the 2013 law was meant to deal with only Orthodox wedding ceremonies -- and not Conservative or Reform ones, which have no legal standing in Israel anyway. Couples in Israel who marry with a Reform or Conservative rabbi officiating are not considered married, unless they supplement that symbolic wedding with a civil marriage abroad after which they are registered by the state as married. 

Founded in 1954, Moriah Congregation is the oldest Conservative synagogue in Israel and describes itself as a halakhic, egalitarian place of worship. 

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