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Sunday 19 August 2007

Justice Minister to allow rabbis to renew marriage 'blacklist'

Justice Minister to allow rabbis to renew marriage 'blacklist' By
Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent
Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar have
agreed on proposed legislation permitting non-Jewish citizens to marry
in civil ceremonies, but may legalize the formation of a database of
people the rabbinate suspects are barred from marrying under Jewish law.

A spokesman for Friedmann said that nothing concrete has happened yet,
saying the civil marriage bill for "the religionless" was yet to be
submitted to the Knesset.

"The entire law and this specific issue of the database are still being
examined at the professional level, and there has not been a final
agreement regarding the database," said Friedmann's media adviser.

Rabbi Amar's spokesman declined to comment. The draft prepared by the
Justice Ministry and rabbinate, and approved by Friedmann and Amar,
contains a clause which proposes "for reasons of efficiency, to legalize
the preservation of information gathered at the rabbinical court
regarding the non-Jewishness of a religionless person, and information
regarding a person's eligibility for marrying in accordance with Jewish
law, in a database."

The proposed database is among the mainstays of the bill, referenced no
fewer than three times in the draft, including in the preamble
explaining the object of the law. There are additional details later in
the draft about the operation of "the marriageability registry,"
including the decision that it will be run by the director of the
rabbinical courts. The database will include "information regarding
eligibility, lack of eligibility or restrictions on the eligibility of a
person to marry in accordance with Jewish law." The draft bill does not
contain any regulations obliging the rabbinate to inform individuals
entered in the database of their status.

The lists of people deemed ineligible for Jewish marriage were
maintained for decades, and their legality was questioned back in the
early 1970s. The attorney general at the time, Meir Shamgar, ordered
that a person placed on the list must be notified. In practice,
Shamgar's orders were defied, with many of those listed uninformed and
not given an opportunity to argue against their inclusion.

The most serious attempt to eliminate the lists came in 1995, when then
religious affairs minister Meir Sheetrit demanded a review of the list.
As a result, the number of those deemed ineligible for Jewish marriage
dropped from 5,200 to 200.

However, the lists did not vanish. A report in 2004, submitted to the
Bar-On Committee tasked with sorting out the civil marriage issue, found
that rabbinical court lists contained 100 mamzers, the Jewish legal term
for a person born of forbidden relations between two Jews, and for that
person's offspring; some 200 "questionable mamzers"; and nearly a
thousand citizens who are considered Jews but for various reasons have
been classified ineligible for Jewish marriage.

Over the years, various politicians and organizations have tried but to
no avail to eliminate the lists, or alternatively, compel the rabbinate
to institute procedures for informing people placed on the list and
enabling them to appeal.

The main complaint over the lists is that they violate the basic rights
of those listed, discriminating against them by withholding their right
to marry - and all unbeknown to them until they apply for a marriage
license, and without being given a right to appeal.

"If such lists exist, then we must ensure that information is
privileged, and guarantee the right to privacy of whoever is on them,
aside from the need to inform them they appear there," Sheetrit said
this week. "Based on my familiarity with the system, you cannot always
count on those who are there to abide by these rules."

Dr. Aviad Hacohen, lecturer on constitutional law and Jewish law at the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Sha'arei Mishpat Academic
College, and head of the Mosaica Institute for the Study of Religion,
Society and State, says that these lists are wrongful on all levels.
"The existence of such a list without those harmed by it knowing about
it and able to put forward their claims is contrary both to basic
democratic values and constitutional rights, and to Jewish values
relating to safeguarding a person's good reputation, his dignity and his
right to marry," he said. "In effect, we are talking about the existence
of pedigree books that affixes a status of first-class Jews and
second-class Jews."

One of the groups that tried for years to combat the lists of
unmarriageables is the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal arm of
the Reform Movement in Israel. IRAC's associate director, rabbi and
attorney Gilad Kariv, said Tuesday that the bill is "simply an attempt
to launder the black lists."

Kariv recommended that the Justice Ministry itself take care of the
regulations for these lists.

"So long as they remain under the rabbinate's control, citizens' basic
rights will be violated, and so long as the rabbinate has a monopoly on
marriage, generations of citizens will be added to the lists that casts
them out of the Jewish people and brands them with the mark of Cain."


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