Police detain, interrogate Conservative rabbi for marrying people

Police in Haifa abruptly woke prominent Masorti (Conservative) leader Rabbi Dov Hayun at 5:30 a.m. this morning at his home in Haifa, detained him and took him in for questioning at the local police station for performing weddings outside of the Chief Rabbinate.

Hayun, who heads the Masorti Moriah synagogue in Haifa, has performed weddings for many years for couples wishing to marry under the auspices of the Masorti movement.

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But an amendment to the Law for Marriage and Divorce passed in 2013 stipulates that an individual who conducts a wedding ceremony for a couple and fails to register it with the Chief Rabbinate is liable to a two-year jail sentence.

Thursday’s incident appears to be the first time that this law has been acted on by the police.

Hayun posted on Facebook that he had been detained from the Haifa Police Station, explaining that he had been told the Haifa Rabbinical Court had filed a complaint against him for conducting weddings, and called on his Facebook friends to share the post, which they did on mass.

“Iran is already here,” Hayun declared in his Facebook post regarding the religiously inspired complaint by the Haifa Rabbinical Court and the subsequent police action.

“The morning began with banging on the door at 5:30 and two policemen summoned me for questioning,” he said.

The police claimed that they had summoned Hayun to a hearing on Wednesday, following the “Haifa Rabbinical Court’s instruction to the Israel Police to investigate the rabbi for breaking the criminal code regarding marriage and divorce. 

The police said he had refused to come, necessitating the detention of the rabbi on Thursday morning.

Hayun told the Post however that the police had summoned him by phone on Wednesday for a questioning on Thursday, but that he had explained to them that he was giving an address at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Thursday and could not come.

The rabbi says he requested to come on Monday, since the Fast of Tisha B’Av is on Sunday, and that the police had acceded to his request on the phone.

The Attorney General’s Office issued a statement saying that the Haifa Rabbinical Court had indeed instructed the police to investigate Hayun, but that he had not presented himself to the police after being summoned on several occasions. 

The Attorney General’s Office said however that it has now instructed that Hayun not be summoned for questioning at all for any criminal matter, until it has investigated the issue.

Hayun has performed weddings for many years in Israel, along with other Masorti and Reform rabbis, for people who want to get married through the progressive Jewish movements.

The rabbi is also scheduled to deliver a Torah lesson at the president’s residence today on Tisha B’Av, along with other rabbis from different denominations, including Orthodox leader and dean of the .

The Masorti Movement in Israel said in a statement to the press that it believed the incident was prompted by Hayun’s scheduled lesson with President Reuven Rivlin to “blacken” the event and embarrass the president.

Rivlin’s office said the president would not be commenting on the incident.

“It’s not pleasant to be dragged from your bed to an investigation for the sin of doing weddings in accordance with the Religion of Moses and Israel,” Hayun said after he left the police station.

“I am not a criminal, I am not a murderer, not a law breaker. I was astonished. It’s hard for me to think of a less Jewish deed on the eve of the Fast of Tisha B’Av. The police have been dragged into being a tool of the Orthodox Rabbinical Court. It’s a sad day for democracy in Israel.”

Dr. Yizhar Hess, director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, described the incident as “an outrage,” which “demonstrates that the Rabbinical Courts have been intoxicated with power.”

“On the other hand, it is nice to know that the Chief Rabbinate all of a sudden recognizes Conservative marriages," quipped Hess. "We stand fully behind Rabbi Hayun and support him. It’s hard not to wonder at the timing of the detention.”

The timing of the incident is also significant, given a new initiative by Orthodox rabbis to provide a wedding service outside of the Chief Rabbinate, called Chuppot.

The Hashgacha Pratit organization that oversees Chuppot said in response to Hayun’s arrest that the “persecution” of rabbis who do weddings outside of the Chief Rabbinate will not bring the many hundreds of couples who marry outside of its auspices every year back to its arms.

A study by the Panim organization published in April this year found that at least 2,434 private Jewish marriage ceremonies took place in 2017, representing an increase of approximately 8% compared with 2016.

At the same time, in the past two years, there has been a decrease of approximately 8% in the number of couples marrying through the Rabbinate. In 2015, 39,111 couples married in the Rabbinate, compared with 36,205 couples in 2017. The most considerable decrease was in the city of Tel Aviv, where there was a decrease of approximately 15% between 2016 and 2017.

“If the details of the incident are correct, then this investigation of a man of religion for conducting weddings outside of the rabbinate is an unprecedented case for the State of Israel,” said Hashgacha Pratit in response to the incident.

“It is sad and worrying that there are people who prefer to intimidate people of religion instead of trying to fix their policies which have caused couples to abandon the Chief Rabbinate.”

Michal Berman, the CEO of the Panim organization — the Israeli-Judaism Network — said in response: "We are shocked by the fact that a rabbi in Israel is being arrested for doing his job — performing marriage ceremonies for the members of his community.”

“It is impossible to continue deny reality, that the State of Israel must come to its senses and recognize the thousands of citizens who seek religious services that are compatible with the 21st century," Berman said.

The Rabbinical Courts Administration spokesman said in response that Hayun had married an individual who “at the time” was a mamzer, a highly problematic status in Jewish law; mamzerim are prohibited from being married according to Jewish law.

The spokesman admitted, however, that the rabbinical court had subsequently released the individual from his mamzer status.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Hayun first pointed out that he was not subject to the rulings of the Orthodox state rabbinical courts, “since they don’t recognize me, and I don’t recognize them.”

He said that in the specific case that the rabbinical court had complained about, he had himself checked the status of the individual and ruled he or she was not a mamzer. Hayun performed the wedding so the individual would not have to wait any longer to get married.

Hayun said further that, after another 18 months, the Haifa Rabbinical Court eventually ruled that the husband and wife were not in fact prohibited from marrying each other.

“Regardless, they don’t recognize me [as a rabbinical authority] so how can it be that I am subject to their rulings?” he demanded.

Mamzerim are one of several categories of problematic personal statuses in Jewish law put on a marriage

There are currently 6,727 Israeli citizens on the blacklist, according to the religious services advisory organization ITIM. These include people whose Jewish status has been called into question by the Rabbinical Courts, divorcees who cannot marry Cohanim,  adulterers and others.