Chief Rabbis Meet Over Tzohar’s Alternative Jewish Weddings

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The Chief Rabbinical Council will meet on Tuesday to discuss the opposition of many of its members to the weddings performed by Tzohar, which helps an estimated 3,000 couples a year marry in a Jewish ceremony that circumvents many of the hassles involved in going through the municipal rabbinate.

Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party who attempted to keep the religious Zionist rabbis of Tzohar from performing weddings, was invited to address the council, which sets policy for the Chief Rabbinate. No Tzohar representatives were asked to attend.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo AmarCredit: Emil Salman

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who called the rabbinical council meeting along with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, criticized Tzohar in an interview with Haaretz on Monday and said leading rabbis, whom he did not name, had cast doubt on whether the weddings they conduct adhere to all the requirements of Jewish law, or halakha.

Amar accused the Tzohar rabbis of sparring needlessly, speaking ill of their colleagues and lacking manners. He also said there is no justification for allowing Tzohar rabbis to become a "super-regional" organization and register married couples anywhere in the country, at least until the Knesset passes a law sponsored by MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima ) that would loosen the municipal rabbinate's grip on weddings.

"There is no need to break with the routine," Amar said.

Early last week Margi announced the Tzohar rabbis may no longer register couples as married. Tzohar said many couples whose weddings they were forced to cancel said they would forgo a Jewish wedding altogether and get married in Cyprus, a popular way of getting around the fact that Israel recognizes secular wedding ceremonies only if they are performed abroad.

A few days later, however, the crisis appeared to have been resolved, after Margi and Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav reached an agreement allowing the organization to revive its flagship wedding project.

Those agreements will be among the topics discussed at Tuesday's Chief Rabbinical Council meeting.

Most council members are municipal rabbis who object to allowing Tzohar rabbis to register couples as married even if neither member of the couple lives in the town where they are registered. The Tzohar registration process sidelines the municipal rabbinates and has the effect of withholding part of their income.

None of the members of the Chief Rabbinical Council is affiliated with Tzohar.

An aide of Metzger's said inviting a Tzhoar representative would have led to "unnecessary harsh words, since Tzohar is in the midst of a media campaign."

Amar said Tzohar representatives' comments criticizing the Religious Services Ministry for seeking to restrict their right to perform weddings were "superfluous."

"I don't see this as a good way to go," said Amar. "When you start an argument sometimes the urge to spar interferes. ... One must rise above it and see what the right thing to do is, because ultimately all this is nonsense. I won, you won - it's all nonsense."

Amar said a few months ago he resolved an earlier conflict with Tzohar, after some rabbis demanded that Tzohar rabbis be banned from performing marriage ceremonies. The problem was resolved after Tzohar committed to adhere to religious law in conducting the ceremonies.

"There was an atmosphere in which [some people] thought - that's how they spoke - that [Tzohar rabbis] don't keep exactly to the law," Amar said. "Some said they don't make sure the bride goes to the mikveh [ritual bath], for one thing. There are many things [people] talked about. I asked them [Tzohar rabbis] and they said it wasn't true."

Amar asked Tzohar to bring a letter from their leadership "undertaking to adhere to all the rules the rabbinate sets - and they must have major rabbis sign it, so we'd know it's serious."

The chief rabbi said Tzohar brought the letter, with the signatures of Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel and Rabbi Haim Druckman, whom Amar described as "important and well-known rabbis whom I admire and respect."

"I brought this to the Rabbinical Council," said Amar. "Negotiations began, but I convinced the entire council and we reached a clear decision, that anyone who fulfills the conditions will not be forbidden to perform weddings just because he belongs to Tzohar."

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: הרב שלמה עמאר בראיון ל"הארץ": ספק אם רבני צהר עומדים בכל כללי ההלכה