AG allows 'deviating from guidelines' for Cohen/Levi name change

Meretz MK complains to AG 'same-sex couples encounter difficulty, even refusal' when seeking to take on partner's surname.

Mordechai Sones ,

Priestly blessing
Priestly blessing
Flash 90

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit this week determined anyone wishing to change their surname to Cohen, Levi, or associated names such as Azulai or Katz (which are Cohanic acronyms) need not provide written approval from a rabbi, as required by the Interior Ministry. Mandelblit’s representative, Attorney Omri Ben-Zvi, expressed the opinion in response to a query by MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), reports Kipa.

In her appeal, Zandberg wrote in recent years she received many requests from citizens applying to the Interior Ministry to change their surname to Cohen, Levi, or related names who were refused. She argued that when "same-sex couples" approach the Interior Ministry with a request for one partner to take on his/her partner’s name Cohen or Levi, “they encounter difficulties and even refusal because they are not connected to the head of the religious community or the community rabbi.

“This procedure is puzzling and offensive, since in most cases secular people don't pray in a synagogue and therefore have neither community leader nor synagogue,” she wrote, asking the Attorney General to rectify the procedure.

"The Names Act of 1956, which regulates the changing of a person’s name, does not require an affidavit from a religious authority, however, the procedure at the Interior Ministry regarding those names which carry an added religious significance requires the applicant to provide written approval from the head of their community or from the rabbi of the synagogue where they pray. The obvious reason is that Jewish law sets more restrictive rules regarding the life-cycle events of Jews who are priests (Cohen) and levites," reports JNi.Media.

"The Names Act does empower the Interior Minister to refuse a request for a change of name if he or she believes that 'the new name is liable to mislead or harm public policy or public sentiment',” said the paper.

Responding to Zandberg, the Attorney General's representative Ben-Zvi wrote “the Supreme Court’s ruling determines that every case requiring exercise of authority must be considered individually as to the special nature of the case and should the case require, it is possible to deviate from the guidelines. The Authority has an obligation to consider the need to deviate from guidelines whenever it is claimed that this is an exceptional case.”