State Looks on as Religious Leaders Gain Authority

Until civil marriage is made official, Israelis have no reason to cooperate with the religious establishment.

The difficulties the chief rabbis have placed upon Tzohar rabbis are another reflection of the internal religious struggle in the rabbinical establishment. This struggle is taking place between the faction subordinate to the leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis and a group endeavoring to preserve religious Zionist principles as well as the status quo between it and the state.

Tzohar rabbis are completely Orthodox. They set up the organization in a bid to accommodate many couples who felt aversion to the state rabbis' contemptuous treatment. Couples complained that rabbis were late for the marriage ceremony, conducted it hastily and without paying attention to the bride and groom, and demanded payment, which they pocketed, in addition to the Rabbinate's registration fee.

When Tzohar became a substantial threat to the Rabbinate's wedding business, the latter launched a mudslinging campaign. But Tzohar was too popular and consequently the Rabbinate removed its mask and is now openly challenging the the religious authority of the organization's rabbis.

This ugly squabble is taking place in the religious arena. At its heart is a struggle for the hegemony which, sanctioned by law and state, dictates and controls the personal life of every Israeli, religious and secular alike, irrespective of his will, lifestyle and world view.

The broad public submits silently to this religious hegemony - which is becoming more extreme - and has never taken to the streets to demonstrate against it and against the resulting intolerable coercion. But the public finds various ways of bypassing it - getting married in Cyprus, making nuptial contracts in the presence of a lawyer or living together in common-law marriage.

Recently it has transpired that even religious couples, who value the religious Jewish marriage ceremony, are circumventing the establishment and tying the knot in private ceremonies.

The state has chosen to ignore the public's distress, as long as the bad agreement between it and the Orthodox establishment is preserved. The Knesset is also displaying incompetence. Apart from a meager attempt to find a solution for a few new immigrants classified as "unable to marry" according to the halakha, it is doing nothing to institutionalize civil marriage.

Until civil marriage is made official, Israelis have no reason to cooperate with the religious establishment. Any of the temporary ways to sidestep that establishment are preferable - as an expression of civil autonomy and even as an act of protest.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: לעקוף את הרבנות