• Leading the Fight against Religious Discrimination in Petach Tikvah

    Religious discrimination in Petach Tikvah has been plaguing members of the Ethiopian community for several years now. As far back as 2014, the local rabbinate refused to register members of the Ethiopian community to marry, as is their legal right. At the time, Rav David Stav suggested that rather than suffer degradation at the hands of the local rabbinate, young couples could apply to marry through Tzohar, where they would be received warmly, like every other Israeli couple. After the inevitable media firestorm that ensued, both the local rabbinate and representatives of the Ministry of Religious Services promised to address the concerns and ensure the fair treatment of all Jews in Petach Tikva, Ethiopians included.



    MK Avraham Neguise

    Sadly, things never truly improved. Recently, thePetach Tikvah rabbinate refused to approve the marriage of an Ethiopian who had converted under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate and presented a legitimate conversion certificate. In addition, the local rabbinate would often refuse to register Ethiopian applicants for marriage, sending them to a different regional council. Earlier this month, the Knesset subcommittee for Aliyah and Absorption , led by committee chairman MK Avraham Naguise , held a hearing to discuss the ongoingdiscrimination against Ethiopians wishing to marry. According to Rav Avraham Barkolin, the Rav of the Ethiopian community in Nes Tziona, explained that the phenomenon was more widespread than people realize. “You’re discussing Petach Tikva because that’s the stronghold [of discrimination], but the phenomenon exists in other places across the country. The city rabbi in Nes Tziona plays rosh katan when he refuses to approve the certificate of conversion in order to marry, dragging out the process for months. He’ll send the certificate [back] to the Chief Rabbinate for approval, despite the fact that [the couple] brought the original Conversion Certificate from the official Conversion Authority of the Chief Rabbinate…I had one case where the kallah received a conversion certificate and the chatan had a regular ishur yahadut, and by the day of the wedding we still had not received the ketubah from the local rabbinate. I told the rabbi of the city that from my perspective they could fire me, but I took a ketubah and married them…”


    The most shocking revelation from the hearing came from a Moshe Dagan, Assistant Executive Director of the Religious Affairs Ministry, who explained that, “There is an instruction that we are permitted to ask one question of someone who comes to register to marry, in order to certify that the conversion is true and proper. The Council of the Chief Rabbinate has established that one is permitted to ask one question: Have you fulfilled any mitzvah since you received your Certificate of Conversion?” After a brief period of stunned silence in the committee room, MK Naguise broke the silence by asking, “Are you joking with us? What is the connection between ascertaining that the certificate is valid and asking halachic questions?” All Dagan could do was repeat that this was the standard procedure, and that he is not the person to talk to about halachic questions.


    So, according to a high-level representative of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, none other than the Chief Rabbinate issued instructions to the local rabbinates to question the validity of conversions conducted under the auspices of – you guessed it – the Chief Rabbinate itself.


    With the revelation of yet another example of religious discrimination last month, Tzohar responded, suggesting that it would consider opening a local office in Petach Tikvah to serve the needs of that community. So, when Tzohar announced that it would consider opening an office in Petach Tikvah, this wasn’t an empty threat. While the local rabbinates have vowed to fight to protect their monopoly status and prevent Tzohar from offering its services to citizens across Israel, if the local Petach Tikvan Rabbinate refuses to enforce the law and continues todiscriminate against Ethiopian Jews (and cause a major Chilul Hashem in the process), Tzohar is willing and ready to provide the services these people deserve with the warmth, eagerness and positive attitude that has transformed the wedding experience for tens of thousands of couples.




    A Bit of Background: How Do You Register to Marry in Israel

    Many people erroneously believe that all marriages are conducted through the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel. This has never been the case. The vast majority of religious services, including constructing the local eruv and mikvah, burials, kashrut and wedding registrations, take place through the dozens of local Religious Councils spread across Israel. The Chief Rabbinate has no official control over the actions of these councils, cannot police them, and can only issue guidelines which the councils can either enforce or ignore. (This explains the widely recognized discrepancies between the kashrut standards of different local rabbinates, and the incredible confusion this causes for the local consumer, who has no real way of knowing the kashrut of a specific rabbanut.) Traditionally, Israelis register through their local moatzah datit when they wished to marry. The local rabbinate then deals with the specifics of the wedding and passes on the registration of the marriage to the Interior Ministry, who then officially registers the couple as married.


    How Does Tzohar Register Weddings?

    Like every other marriage in Israel, the weddings performed under the auspices of Tzohar also flow through a local religious council. In Tzohar’s case, all of the four to five thousand weddings we facilitate each year take place either through the rabbanut of Shoham, under Rav Stav, or through the rabbanut of Gush Etzion. The marriages that take place under Tzohar’s auspices are officially registered with the Ministry of Interior, no differently than all other marriages which take place across the Jewish State. Applications for marriage must take place in person, at the local religious council office. For this reason, until two years ago, any couple who wished to marry through Tzohar had to travel to our offices in Lod to apply. (While couples can open a file online, they must appear at the office in person before the wedding.) To remove the impediment of long-distance travel, two years ago, Tzohar opened two regional offices, in Jerusalem (on the campus of Hebrew University) and in Haifa, thus making registration through Tzohar far more convenient for couples from those areas.