Groom ready to break wineglass in Jewish ceremony – Photo: Yehoshua Yosef
The Knesset State Control Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday morning to discuss the sorry state of marriage registration in Israel.
“The present situation is a desecration of God’s name,” said committee chairman MK Amnon Cohen (Shas). “Instead of the Religious Services Ministry being a model of proper conduct, efficiency and public service, organizational and administrative failures are being exposed. I am determined to change the situation from the foundation, to oversee matters and make sure the reality changes completely.”
In the years 2008-2010, an average of 37,000 Jewish couples were wed in Israel through rabbinical councils. State Comptroller Yosef Shapira found that the religious councils operate differently from each other, both in procedures and in the level of proof they demand of couples to prove their eligibility for marriage. Some councils make it easy on the couples while others are stricter than required by the regulations. These discrepancies could undermine the validity of some marriages, as well as the principle of equal treatment of all citizens.
Some of the local councils did not pass on to the Religious Services Ministry the names of the couples who had registered with them, preventing the necessary cross-checking with the population registry. Shapira also found that the Religious Services Ministry did not follow up with the religious councils that did not send it lists of potential brides and grooms, nor did it follow up in cases where marriages were delayed for various reasons.
In May 2007, the marriage committee of the Chief Rabbinate put together a proposal for new and updated guidelines for the registration process of marriages in Israel, but at the time when the report was compiled, in September 2011, it had not been implemented.
Shapira also looked into how the public was being served, and found that most religious councils distributed flyers explaining the process of registering for marriage in Hebrew only, with only 59 percent of them publishing the information on the Internet. Among 27% of religious councils, the telephone is the only avenue for opening a marriage file.
About 40% of religious councils (most of them mid-sized) do not receive the public in the afternoons, even if this would improve service. Eighty-nine percent of the larger religious councils responded that they do not schedule a time in advance for couples to register for marriage, even though they serve a relatively large population, making the number of registrants high and the wait times often long.
The comptroller found that the Chief Rabbinate does not have a written regulation defining the process of choosing a rabbi to serve as the registering rabbi, who can be a candidate for the job, what the basic requirements are or how the vacant job is advertised.
Pre-marital lessons for brides are also not based on guidelines that determine the content of the classes and the number of hours, and religious councils operate based on their own criteria. Bridal classes can vary from one to 12 hours in length.
Shapira found instances in which rabbis who did not meet all the qualifications were allowed to officiate at weddings. “There is a fear that with some of the rabbis there was leniency due to their connections or closeness to people in positions influence,” the report stated.
According to rules approved by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate in July 2009, a rabbi who is a public servant may not receive compensation for performing marriages, unless both members of the couple do not live in his jurisdiction. The permission to receive payment depends on receiving approval in advance from the rabbinate to do private work and on providing semi-annual reports on the number of marriages the rabbi conducted and the salary he received.
Shapira found that the Chief Rabbinate and the ministry did not enforce this prohibition on private work. In addition, the council of the Chief Rabbinate decided in June 2010 to prohibit rabbis from advertising themselves in the media, and that a rabbi who violated this prohibition would face disciplinary action, including being denied his license to conduct marriage ceremonies.
Many rabbis advertise on the Internet, and there were no reports of disciplinary measures against them.
The marriage registration fee is 600 shekels ($170), but there is a discount of up to 40 percent for prospective brides and grooms who meet certain criteria. Shapira found that most religious councils did not bother demanding all the necessary paperwork from most of those who received a discount. About half of them did not make sure that the discount would only be given to those who met the requirements. In some of the religious councils, receipts were missing for fee payment. Some religious councils did not operate according to the ministry’s guidelines for the fees, and their conduct overcharged and created a lack of standard practice for all marriage registrants.
The hearing will be attended by representatives of government ministries, rabbinical courts, the Chief Rabbinate, the state comptroller’s office, the organization for Ethiopian Jews, the chief rabbi for Ethiopian Jews, and the religious councils of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion, Kiryat Gat, Herzliya, Netanya, Yavnel, Mate Binyamin, Shoham, Mate Yehuda, the Center for Local Government and the Association for Civil Rights.
The hearing will take place on Wednesday in the Knesset and will be broadcast on the Knesset website.
View original Israel Hayom publication at: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=12771