US groups attack Israeli rabbis’ grip on marriage

By Shira Rubin, March 13, 2014

A number of major Jewish American organisations plan to join forces with Israeli groups to end the Israeli chief rabbinate’s control over marriage, burials and other personal status issues.

The coalition, led by the American Jewish Committee, met at a conference earlier this year. According to a new statement, the goal is “to strengthen religious freedom and equality in Israel, allowing for full exercise of freedom of conscience in matters of personal status, as befits a democratic and Jewish state, and as would enhance Israel’s ties to world Jewry”.

The US campaign group includes activists from the Reform Hebrew Union College, the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, the UJA-Federation of New York, and the National Council of Jewish Women.

The Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, which has a deal with the rabbinate, did not attend.

A high priority concern was the rabbinate’s control over marriage.

The issue was brought to the fore in January when an American Orthodox rabbi, Avi Weiss, was blacklisted by the rabbinate.

Since Israel does not allow civil marriages, Rabbi Weiss wrote a letter attesting to the Jewish status of two of his congregants wishing to get married in Israel.

The rabbinate rejected the letter, then reversed its decision after widespread protests.

“The Chief Rabbinate… has been turning inward, taking religiously extreme positions, consolidating and extending its power,” wrote Rabbi Weiss in a New York Times op-ed in January entitled ‘Rein in Israel’s Rabbinate.’ He argued that his blacklisting was merely a symptom of a broader problem.

According to a survey published by the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, the Israeli rabbinate, which is taxpayer-funded, is seen by Israelis as the second most corrupt institution in the country, after the political parties. The survey ranked the rabbinate at four on a corruption scale of one to five.

Last updated: 1:24pm, March 13 2014