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Reform Rabbis Demand Right to Register Marriages in Israel

The World Union for Progressive Judaism, representing Reform, Jewry in the United States and around the world, has asked Religious Affairs Minister Aharon Abu-Hatzeira for recognition of its rabbis, under law, as registrars of marriages. Abu-Hatzeira, a member of the National Religious Party, is expected to reject the request, in which case the Progressive movement said it would appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.

Marriages and all other Jewish religious functions relating to family life in Israel are the exclusive domain of the Orthodox rabbinate. The Progressives announced their request to the Ministry of Religions and their intention to go to the high court, at the opening here last week of the 21st Conference of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. About 1000 delegates from abroad and from the growing Reform movement in Israel are attending. The conference was preceded by the ordination of the first Israeli Reform rabbi in Israel, Mordechai Rotem, last Tuesday. The movement also plans to found a second kibbutz, following the success of its initial kibbutz, Yahel in the Arava region.

EXCEPTIONS TO RABBINATE AUTHORITY CITED

In its request to Abu-Hatzeira, the Reform movement noted that several bodies other than the Chief Robbinate of Israel are recognized by law as registrars of marriages. These are, apart from the Christian, Moslem and Druze denominations, the Rabbinical Council of the Agudat Israel–which does not recognize the Chief Rabbinate–and the court of the Edo Haredit in Jerusalem which does not recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel in many respects.

Another registrar, not within the Chief Rabbinate framework, is Rabbi Menahem Hacohen a Labor Party MK and rabbi of the moshav movement. The Reform movement has asked that two Reform rabbis be similarly recognized according to regulations that the Minister of Religions is empowered to issue.

"We will never agree to a situation in which the Jewish State, for coalition considerations, gives exclusivity to one stream in Judaism," declared Rabbi Richard Hirsch, Secretary General of the World Union. Hirsch, who has lived in Israel for several years, represents the world Reform movement on the World Zionist Organization Executive. He and other Reform rabbis cited the recent marriage of Karen Dickenstein and Howard Levine, both of Kibbutz Yahel, which was solemnized by a Reform rabbi. Adi Assavi and then duly registered by the Chief Rabbi of Eilat, Moshe Hodaya. They said that later, Hodaya was pressured into announcing that he would not register such marriages in the future.

CERTAIN MARRIAGES WOULD BE PRECLUDED

For this reason, the Reform leaders explained, they felt they could no longer rely on the good will of the Orthodox registrars and must demand the right for Reform rabbis to become "register authorities." Hirsch and the World Union’s legal aide said they would not perform marriages that are not recognized by Israeli law, such as between a Jew and a person of illegitimate birth or between a Jew and a non-Jew. But they gave no commitment regarding marriages that Orthodox rabbis refuse to perform, such as between a Cohen and a divorced person, but which, if performed abroad, are recognized ex post facto by the Israeli courts.

Hirsch said that the Issue of which marriages would be performed could be included in the "dialogue" which he hoped would develop between the Religious Affairs Minister and the Reform movement in connection with its request for recognition. Hirsch maintained that the non-recognition of Reform and Conservative rabbis as marriage registrars is "more than any other problem a factor that injects divisiveness and friction between Israel and world Jewry." He said he "could speak for the Conservative movement too" an this matter.

He asked, how could the State of Israel, which solicited Reform and Conservative Jewry’s moral, political and economic support refuse to permit Reform and Conservative rabbis "to function in Israel as they do in every other country?" He said that "several" couples living in Israel are waiting to be married by a Reform rabbi and intend to be married in the next few weeks. Therefore, the Reform movement’s demand for recognition is urgent and immediate, he said.

Premier Menachem Begin, who addressed a dinner of the World Union Thursday night, avoided any mention of the marriages issue, which is politically explosive.

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