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A reckless Rabbinate

Tzohar will not be deterred despite revelations that couples were denied marriage licenses for associating with them

To best convey the sheer absurdity of how certain elements within Israel’s Chief Rabbinate are acting in manner that is directly harming Israeli society, I will apply the ages-old rabbinic method of relating a parable.

Imagine a patient goes to a doctor and receives a diagnosis. The patient then understandably asks that they be afforded a second opinion. The first doctor agrees, but before releasing the patient’s file — out of sheer chutzpah — he completely alters all the relevant details so that his medical colleague will have no ability to accurately analyze the patient — and likely cause him or her irreparable harm.

Alternatively, I ask you to imagine a military commander who has specific intelligence to lead his company into battle. But because of a personal grudge with the Chief of Staff, the commander alters the field report in a way that will sabotage the soldiers and lead the army into a costly defeat.

Over the past few weeks and months, certain Israeli religious officials, whom I can by no means bring myself to describe as rabbinical leaders, have been acting with a similar level of recklessness and without any consideration for the deeply harmful impact of their actions.

As has been widely reported in the media in recent days, the Haifa Chief Rabbinate, which is a direct arm of the national Chief Rabbinate, deliberately altered the case files of innocent young couples who were looking to marry through the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization — which I was honored to found and have led for the past twenty years. When confronted by the media as to why they acted with such abandon, they answered, without hesitation, essentially that it is because they don’t like Tzohar.

Our primary objective as an organization is to provide these marriage-bound couples with a sense of dignity and respect as they approach this most emotional and special time in their lives.

For this reason tens of thousands of couples choose to marry through Tzohar, rather than pursue the often cold and bureaucratic path that defines marriage under the Rabbinate. It is of course imperative to remember that we act in full compliance with the laws of the country and are not intending to wrest power from the Rabbinate. Our goal is simple: to give couples dignity and allow them to marry according to halacha and in the beauty of the tradition that has guided us for thousands of years.

But because of personal hubris — and the sense that anyone outside of their circle must be viewed as a threat — the Rabbinate — in this case, in Haifa, but in ways that have similarly been witnessed all over the country — has sought to wage war (their words not mine…) with Tzohar.  And as part of this war, the clerks in the marriage bureau of the Haifa Chief Rabbinate acted in a disgraceful — and very possibly criminal — manner, by deliberately altering the case files of those couples who had the sheer audacity to do nothing other than try and marry in dignity.

Acting in a way that could be described as comical were it not so sad, these clerks went so far as to list Jews who are 100 percent acceptable to be married under even the strictest interpretations of Jewish law, as widows and widowers, as converts, and even as products of illicit relationships.

My friends, the people who performed these actions might dress and look pious on the outside. And despite the fact that they work under a rabbinical authority that one would assume makes them meritorious, they are anything but. These people are not fitting for their jobs, they are not fitting for the title of rabbi and they are certainly not fitting to provide public service in this country and state that we love so dearly.

While I have certainly been hurt by this episode, I know that the real victims have been the couples. The couples who dreamed of their perfect weddings all their lives and were forced to fear that some bureaucratic shenanigans would destroy the moment. The young men and women who were asked to open letters from these “rabbis” and even for a moment question their Jewish roots.

With God’s help, we have succeeded in exposing this fraud early enough so that no wedding need be cancelled or delayed.

But I wish it to be made clear that our path will not in any way be swayed. We are more committed, we will intensify our efforts and open more offices all over the country, always remaining adherent to halacha, while ensuring that every Jew in Israel is given the respect that he or she so deserves.

That is the true way of Jewish leadership. And for the good of this nation and each and every one of its citizens it is critical that it be restored.

About the Author
Rabbi David Stav is the Chief Rabbi of the City of Shoham, Founder & Chairman of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization.