At a press conference held on Sunday afternoon, Minister for Religious Services Naftali Bennett and deputy minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan of the Jewish Home party unveiled a controversial program of changes in the Religious Affairs Ministry that Rabbanim warn could have devastating consequences.
The new regulations would permit people to register for marriage anywhere in the country, regardless of their place of residence. Thus, if their local rabbi raises halachic questions, they would be able to shop elsewhere for a more accommodating rabbi.
Currently couples can only register for marriage in the religious council of the district in which they reside.
The local rabbinate in the town where the couple lives is usually more familiar with their family history, and thus is in a better position to decide if the couple is allowed to marry according to Torah. As soon as they can go to any religious council around the country, there is no longer any serious oversight of the matter.
The plan has long been on the agenda of those who seek to weaken the power of the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel.
The pair introduced the plan as making the bureaucracy of marriage registration easier for couples. However, critics have questioned how allowing a couple from the north of the country to register in the south makes it easier for them. Rather, as the plan has been explained by Rabbanei Tzohar, a group of rabbis who overtly declare that they are seeking to make halachah easier for the secular public, the motivation is for a couple to be able to circumvent a halachic authority who poses halachic questions about their marriage.
Municipal Rabbanim, Dayanim and marriage registrars have long warned against adopting the idea, which is liable to sow tremendous damage to the boundaries of halachah as relating to marriages among the secular public. The process will inevitably bring about an increased rate of assimilation, they warn.
UTJ MK Rabbi Yaakov Asher suggested in response, that in order to improve “customer service,” as Bennett is ostensibly trying to do, each citizen in Israel should be able to select a clerk on the planning council of any town in the country in order to obtain a building permit for an apartment or extension. Furthermore, perhaps they should be able to choose the tax clerk they like to audit them, and this will generate “competition and creativity” as Bennett proposes on religious issues.