On Monday, the Knesset passed in a second and third reading a law that opens marriage registration areas.
Under the new law, a couple can register for marriage with any Rav who has been authorized to register marriages, irrespective of where they live or where the wedding will be held, as it has been until now. The law does not, however, require passage of information between marriage registrars so, in essence, anyone who had a halachic problem getting married can go to a distant location where he will not be questioned as to family background or other halachic constraints.
In addition, any Rav who registers marriages can open a registry office in any location and register marriages. This can be done without knowing the couple beforehand, or without any practical way of keeping track of genealogical problems, as required by halachah.
Leading Rabbanim have been against this law for years and the Chief Rabbinate has expressed firm opposition to the law.
Likewise, the Rabbanim of Tekumah, a faction within the Jewish Home party, called on the party’s MKs to oppose the law due to the many problems it engenders. Nevertheless, 11 of its 12 MKs voted with the secular parties in favor of the law.
The primary fear is that opening marriage registration areas nationwide, without any halachic oversight by a local Rav, will bring about deterioration in halachic observance regarding marriage registration that will ultimately lead to a need for separate genealogy registries (sifrei yochsin).
Ultimately, the coalition majority overcame parliamentary objections by the chareidi parties and it was passed in its second and third readings. Fifty-seven MKs from both coalition and opposition factions voted in favor of the law ; 14 MKs from UTJ and Shas opposed it. One MK abstained.
According to supporters of the law, opening marriage areas will lead to competition between marriage registrars — who can make the process the easiest for couples. And that’s exactly what opponents are afraid of: the authorities will compete between themselves as to who can offer the most leniencies and ignore complex halachic issues.
Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of Jewish Home, issued a statement that said that “we promised and we fulfilled to open the marriage areas. Like in consumer areas, so too in religious services, opening the marriage areas to competition will service the customer — in this case, the marrying couples. We believe that competition serves the customer in every area, from cafes to marriage registries.”
With the passage of the law, two amendments were added on, presented by the chareidi factions in the Knesset. The first would forbid a Rav who registers marriage to advertise his services and campaign for registering marriages. The second states that a Rav that conducts marriage registration and a chuppah and kiddushin without being authorized to do so will be in violation of the law and can be sentenced to up to two years in prison.
UTJ representatives in the Knesset expressed their vehement objections and criticism of the law.
MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni focused his criticism on the Jewish Home MKs, who enabled and supported the law. “Where has such a thing been heard of? This is not done anywhere else! Passports can only be issued near one’s place of residence, applications to the tax authorities can only be done in one’s district, and no one can say that they don’t like the clerk so they will go north or south to deal with their issues. The same is true in all areas, but specifically with marriage registration you want to play around?
“You want, that by law, if someone lives in Tel Aviv and decides he doesn’t like the local Rav, he can go to some distant moshav that has a Rav that registers marriage and register without any background checks or questions? The marriage registry will become completely hefker,” Rabbi Gafni railed at the Jewish Home MKs. “Why don’t you bring such a law for any other service except this?”