After Outcry, Detained Conservative Rabbi Says Israel Won’t Quickly Try Again


The Conservative rabbi detained last week by police in a predawn raid over a wedding he performed outside the auspices of the state-run Chief Rabbinate on Sunday said he does not believe he will be hauled in for further questioning, or that other Israeli rabbis would now be under criminal investigation for conducting weddings outside the state-run religious authorities.

The Israeli authorities learned from its overreach and is taking pains to contain the global Jewish fallout, Rabbi Dov Haiyun opined, calling his detention a wake-up call for Diaspora Jewry.

On Thursday morning, at 5:30 a.m., police arrived at the door of the Haifa home of Haiyun, bringing him to a police station and detaining him for an hour-and-a-half based on a local rabbinical court order. The Conservative rabbi, who has been performing weddings for decades, was released after pledging to arrive for a round of questioning on Monday. The attorney general’s office later instructed police to cancel the summons and no further date was set, but Haiyun’s detention sent a deep shiver down the spine of an already-frayed Israel-Diaspora relationship and drew a furious outcry from Jewish leaders abroad.

According to Haiyun, the attorney general’s office’s intervention sought to contain the incident.

“They understood that the Israel Police, as a result of the rabbinical court, climbed a high tree — that is even illegal, I would say — and they’re trying to quell it,” he told The Times of Israel.

“It was the initiative of one rabbinical judge, or one rabbinical court, and they [the state] understood the mistake they made… and are trying to quell it,” he added.

Nor did Haiyun think his detention portends the gradual enforcement of an Israeli law criminalizing weddings outside the Rabbinate, which, though on the books and carrying a two-year jail sentence, has never previously been invoked and is openly flaunted.

“I don’t think they’ll enforce it. They understood, through the uproar of the past several days, that there is no chance they can continue with it,” he said.

Haiyoun said he received support from Jews around the world, from most denominations — “secular, Reform, Conservative, and also from the Orthodox” — as well as backing from some Knesset members. But there was no official apology from police or government, he said. “No one admits that a mistake was made.”

Haiyun’s arrest was swiftly condemned by American Jewish leaders, with Rabbi Steven Wernick of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) umbrella group saying it showed that the country is “no longer a Jewish homeland for all the Jewish people.”

The outcry “hurt the State of Israel,” Haiyun said on Sunday, calling it a wake-up call for Diaspora Jewry.

“Perhaps it woke us all up to finally understand the great discrimination in the State of Israel against the [non-Orthodox] denominations, that we all have known about for years, and the time has come to see to what extreme lengths it can reach,” he added.

Haiyun said police first contacted him with the complaint on Wednesday at noon. In three separate conversations with police officials, the rabbi told them he could not come in on Thursday, due to an event at the President’s Residence, but would come on Monday, he said. Nonetheless, police arrived at his door some 17 hours later to bring him to the station to sign a document committing to arrive for questioning on Monday, based on a court order by the local rabbinical court.

“I was placed in a chair, for an hour and a half, by the officers, and they didn’t ask me anything. It was only a detainment,” not an interrogation, he said.

A spokesperson for the rabbinical courts on Thursday had accused Haiyun of performing weddings for couples who are prevented from marrying under Jewish law (a class that includes kohanim, or those of the priestly caste, who wish to marry divorcees or converts; children born of extramarital affairs; etc.), calling the practice “criminal and illegal.”

“Rabbi Haiyun married a couple in which one of them was a mamzer [a child born to a married woman through an extramarital affair], which both Judaism and the [Israeli] law gravely forbid,” the rabbinical courts later added.

“Moreover, he avoided formalizing the registration, as the law requires,” the spokesperson said.

However, according to Haiyun, the rabbinical court had cleared the woman of any doubt of mamzerut — after deliberating the case for a year and a half. The couple had since turned to Haiyun to marry, and the Conservative rabbi, after conducting his own checks, cleared her for a Jewish wedding several years ago.

Last Monday, Haiyun had arrived at the Haifa rabbinical court to register the couple. The couple had requested the wedding be officially put on the state docket through the Rabbinate, and did not foresee issues as the state religious authorities had already approved her to marry under Jewish law, said Haiyun.  But two days later, he was summoned for police questioning.

“I am not a felon, not a murderer, not a criminal,” said Haiyun on Thursday in a statement, who described the incident as “unpleasant.”

“It’s hard to think of an action that is less Jewish, on the eve of Tisha B’Av,” he added. “The police have been dragged into serving the Orthodox rabbinical court. This is a sad day for Israeli democracy.”

“Iran is here!” posted Haiyun on Facebook from the police station.

Israel’s Rabbinate oversees all personal status issues for Jews, including marriage and divorce, and does not recognize civil unions conducted in the country, or ceremonies performed by non-Orthodox officiators. Though performing such ceremonies is illegal and carries a prison sentence, the ban on the practice is not enforced by police. In recent years, some Orthodox rabbis have also stepped up private ceremonies outside the Rabbinate.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.