JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Conservative rabbi in Israel was awakened by police early Thursday morning and taken in for questioning over performing an illegal marriage ceremony.
Rabbi Dov Haiyun of Haifa was taken to a local police station by two officers at 5:30 a.m. for questioning after the Haifa Rabbinical Court filed a complaint against him for conducting a marriage ceremony of a couple in violation of state and religious law. One member of the couple is Jewish but born out of an extramarital affair, making her a “mamzer” and unable to marry according to Jewish law.
According to a 2013 law, it is illegal to perform a marriage ceremony in Israel outside of the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate would not have allowed such a marriage to take place.
Haiyun said in a post on Facebook that Haifa’s Orthodox rabbinical court “filed a complaint against me for performing weddings.”
“Iran is already here,” he said in the post written from the police station. He urged his followers to share the post.
Haiyun has been officiating in Israel at non-Orthodox weddings for decades, according to reports.
Police said they arrived at Haiyun’s home after he failed to heed a summons to appear for questioning earlier this week. He was released hours after his detention after he said he would return to the station for questioning on Monday, The Times of Israel reported, citing a police spokesperson. He later was informed that he did not have to appear and would be summoned again if the need arose.
The cancellation of the summons came after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered police to halt their investigation until they determine if Haiyun committed a criminal offense.
The wedding ceremony in question took place two years ago, Haaretz reported.
Rabbi Mikie Goldstein, president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, called it “unthinkable that a rabbi in Israel should be arrested for officiating at a Jewish wedding ‘according to the law of Moses and Israel.’
“And it is unthinkable that the state should dictate to its citizens how to believe, how to fulfill mitzvot or how to live their religious lives,” he said in a statement.
Haiyun is the spiritual leader of Moriah Congregation, the oldest Conservative, or Masorti, synagogue in Israel, which was founded in 1954. He is the director of the Midreshet Schechter network of adult education programs.
Later in the day, Haiyun was a featured speaker at a pre-Tisha b’Av study session with secular, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox scholars at the president’s residence in Jerusalem hosted by President Reuven Rivlin.
“It is unpleasant to be dragged out of bed for an investigation into the existence of a Jewish wedding ceremony conducted according to the Laws of Moses and Israel,” Haiyun was quoted as saying in a Facebook post by Rabbi Yitzhar Hess of the Masorti movement. “I am not an offender. I am not a murderer. I am not a criminal. It is hard for me to think of a less Jewish act to occur on the eve of Tisha b’Av. The police were dragged in to be the janitor for the Rabbinical Court. It is a sad day for democracy in Israel.”
Itim, an organization that seeks to reform Israel’s Chief Rabbinate-dominated marriage policy, said it was outraged by what it called the first time Israeli police have sought to enforce the 2013 law.
“Israel has a moral and legal responsibility to respect Jewish practice,” Rabbi Seth Farber, the director of Itim, said in a statement. “If the rabbinate would commit itself to solving problems of those who can’t get married rather than engaging in public relations to promote its version of orthodoxy, Jews would be more connected to their Jewish lives and to Israel.”
Farber noted that the incident came on the same day that Israel’s Knesset passed a law, opposed by many Jewish groups in the Diaspora, defining itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
“The timing of this could not be worse,” he said. “At a time when the liberal movements in the United States are feeling disenfranchised, this unprecedented incident will further alienate Jews from Israel.”
In a touch of irony, Rabbi Haiyun’s questioning comes three weeks after Israel’s Foreign Ministry posted an English-language video to Facebook advertising different ways to get married in Israel — including in a ceremony outside the Chief Rabbinate, which would be against the law.