Rabbinate gets rid of “Tzohar,” tightening its monopoly on marriage

The organization that officiated Ori J. Lenkinski’s wedding, and the one viable alternative to the Rabbinate for Jews who want to marry in Israel, informed her that it is being shut down.

This afternoon I received an email from Rabbanei Tzohar, the organization that officiated my marriage. In a very thought-out message, they explained that they were being closed down and would no longer be able to officiate or expedite any matters concerning our marriage certificate, but that we could turn to the Tel Aviv branch of the Rabbinate with any questions.

Religion, it struck me, is quite the business. In Israel, where, in the absence of civil marriages, the only two options for couples wanting to get married are the Rabbinate or a random city hall abroad, it would appear that the Rabbinate had a lot of motives for getting rid of their emerging, liberal cousin, Tzohar.

Having grown up in a pluralistic Jewish community in Philadelphia, and more specifically in a somewhat religious high school environment, I had many scars concerning forced religious practice. For that reason, when my husband asked me to marry him, I immediately assumed that we would do what most of our secular friends did and get married either in Cyprus or the United States. By chance, I met Rabbi Morey Schwartz on the plane from South Africa, who recommended Tzohar to me. Tzohar’s tagline is “A Window Between Worlds,” which sounded a bit cheesy at first but is actually a perfect description of the operation they were running. After checking them out, we decided to go with Tzohar. They offered a great way for us to get married in our own country without having to put up with the nightmare stories we had heard about getting married as a secular couple in the Rabbinate. I have heard countless stories about the huge lines at the Rabbinate where people getting divorced wait alongside blushing brides and the horrible attitude of the staff.

Tzohar wanted to bridge the gap between the religious demands the Rabbinate places surrounding marriage and secular couples seeking to be wed in Israel. They presented a more organic option. Morey ended up marrying us and was a great help throughout the entire process before the wedding itself.

Neither the Tzohar staff nor anyone associated with them never made us feel, not even for one second, that we were an unobservant couple. They never implied that we were doing anything wrong by living secularly. The overall feeling was acceptance. They even had a department especially for secular couples, where they offered advice on finding ways to make the experience feel right for us. It may seem mushy to say this, but during the sensitive time before one of the bigger steps I’ve taken in my life, that warmth was well-appreciated.

Tzohar were also incredibly efficient. Their entire system is digital with all important documents and reminders sent via email. At Tzohar, when you scheduled a meeting, they saw you exactly at the planned time. At Tzohar, everyone was friendly and helpful. They called me numerous times in the months before the wedding to see if everything was moving along and to offer helpful tips about what Mikve (ritual bath) to go to and which bridal counselor would understand me the best. It wasn’t that we didn’t have to complete the list of tasks laid out by the Rabbinate, but rather that the people involved seemed genuinely invested in making it a positive and enjoyable process.

But, alas, they were plucking secular couples away from the Rabbinate. The growing number of couples turning to Tzohar threatened the Rabbinate’s monopoly on matrimony and so they shut it down. At first, they limited the number of couples that Tzohar could take care of to a very small portion of their yearly intake. And when Tzohar scaled back to meet the Rabbinate’s demands, they found themselves unable to stay above water.

Thus, today, our country took one step backwards. A step away from openness. Away from bridging the gap between Church and State. And I suppose I wonder how we can let this happen? How can we allow the Rabbinate to annihilate their only competition? Shouldn’t we try to protect the one other option available to us as Jews getting married in Israel?