Why was a Masorti Rabbi Called in for Police Questioning?
On Thursday, July 19, at 5:30 am, Rabbi Dov (Dubi) Haiyun, rabbi of Kehilat Moriah in Haifa, the oldest Masorti congregation in Israel, was awoken to the sound of police knocking at his door. The time of the police visit came as a surprise to Rabbi Haiyun, but the fact that they wanted to talk to him had not. Haiyun, like so many of his Masorti colleagues (as well as many Reform rabbis, some public figures, community leaders, and even some Orthodox rabbis), knew that he was guilty of a particular crime: performing weddings in the State of Israel without the knowledge or approval of the Chief Rabbinate. Representatives of the Rabbinical Court in Haifa had learned that not only had Rabbi Haiyun officiated a wedding, but that he had officiated a wedding for a woman who was on a rabbinic “black list,” and who was determined to have questionable status as to whether she could be married according to the Chief Rabbinate’s understanding of halacha.
Though Rabbi Haiyun was brought in for questioning at 5:30 in the morning, he once again explained what he had told the police the day before when they called him: he was slated to teach that day at an official event hosted by President Rivlin, and he had indeed even agreed to come in for questioning on Monday following the Tisha B’Av fast. Rabbi Haiyun was released from questioning, and by order of the Attorney General, he was not called back.
So what exactly happened? The Haifa police called in Rabbi Haiyun for questioning at the request of the Rabbinical Court under the grounds that Rabbi Haiyun had officiated a wedding that he did not register with (or gain approval for from) the Chief Rabbinate. Of course, such an action is impossible in Israel, as Masorti rabbis are not recognized as being legal wedding officiants (and in the 1990’s, the Chief Rabbinate instructed the Masorti Movement to cease sending records of weddings we officiate because they will not recognize them). However, Rabbi Haiyun’s “crime” highlights one of the many reasons why our weddings are so necessary in Israel. The bride in question was considered unfit to be married because of the possibility that one of her ancestors was a “mamzer”-- legally unfit to be married. When the couple came to the Rabbinate to get married, they told them that they had to clarify whether the marriage would be acceptable. That they did -- over the course of a year and a half -- far longer than the couple intended to wait for their wedding. Rabbi Haiyun, on the other hand, investigated the matter right away, and found within a few days that there was no reason why the couple couldn’t be married. The incident is sadly one of many in which people who want to be married in Israel are denied either due to bureaucracy or particularly stringent halachic approaches held by the Chief Rabbinate.
The incident, however, did have one silver lining. Many Israelis learned for the first time of the possible “crime” of having one’s wedding (for both members of the couple and the officiant) reflect one’s values and worldview, and that weddings outside of the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate or not only unrecognized but carry a potential jail sentence. Israeli public opinion has been largely and overwhelmingly in our favor, with voices of support joining Rabbi Haiyun from the Modern Orthodox to the secular and everyone in between. The incident has allowed the Masorti Movement to share what makes us and our Jewish worldview unique, as it has piqued interest in who we are. And as for Rabbi Haiyun -- his wedding services have never been in higher demand!