(July 20, 2018 / JNS) The news that police officers went knocking on the door of a rabbi suspected of illegally performing a Jewish wedding in Israel—and that they did so at 5:30 a.m.—was sure to create a firestorm.
As with every uproar, it would be best to get straight to the root of the problem.
A person who studies coconut-oil treatments or retail therapy cannot claim to be a doctor, even if they consider themselves as such. The state determines who is a doctor, an engineer or an accountant, and even who is eligible to receive a driver’s license.
The state also defines who is a rabbi, and as such authorized to conduct and register religious weddings. Anyone with a microphone can conduct a civil ceremony. A religious ceremony can only be conducted by a qualified person, usually after five to 10 years of training, who has certification and a professional license from the state to officiate at marriage ceremonies, according to the law.
Israel is a secular Jewish state, but the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate has authority over issues such as marriage. The alternative streams of Judaism popular with U.S. Jewry have not taken hold in Israel. The rabbis legally authorized to officiate at weddings in Israel are Orthodox rabbis.
Rabbi Dov Hayun, a Conservative rabbi, was taken in for questioning because he was not authorized to officiate at weddings “in accordance with the laws of Moses and Israel,” just as cosmeticians are not permitted to write prescriptions for eye drops, regardless of how much they may have read on the subject.
The police should not have taken Hayun for questioning, and they should not have shown up at his doorstep at that early hour. Nevertheless, according to the rabbinical courts, Hayun conducted a marriage ceremony between a couple deemed by the rabbinate as forbidden to marry according to religious law, a criminal offense.
This is a serious problem, and it makes people suspicious of the Conservative movement: If this is indeed the case, our children will not able to marry the children of couples who married in these alternative ceremonies.
Those who present themselves as rabbis and conduct marriages for couples who halachically cannot be married are like lawyers who falsify records or restaurant owners who forge Health Ministry permits. No matter how clean and sanitary a restaurant may seem, the owner is not the one who gets to decide if it passed mandatory health codes.
The law may be terrible, and it may be archaic, but it can be amended. Breaking the law does not help anyone.
Emily Amrousi is a journalist, writer and publicist.