Amidst a growing trend of Israeli couples pursuing civil marriages outside of the country, the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization has announced plans to develop a center for their organization’s activities in downtown Tel Aviv.
Founded in 1996, Tzohar has been involved with assisting over 60,000 couples in pursuing marriages that are both in accordance with Jewish and Israeli law but work to address the sensitivities and specific personal issues that many secular couples have in advance of marriage. In what has become an increasingly divisive and even politically charged issue, many secular couples choose to avoid halachic marriage through the Israeli Rabbinate fearing a sense of religious coercion or imposition into their personal space.
“We know very well that a large majority of Israeli couples, both religious and secular, will choose to have a halachic wedding if the process and experience are respectful of their needs and made accessible to them,” says Tzohar founder and Chair Rabbi David Stav. “Our response has always been to work as hard as possible to give them that access and the critical next step is to open a center in Tel Aviv where so many in this community live and work.”
The decision of many couples to marry outside of Israeli law – or begin a family outside of wedlock- impacts not only themselves. The children of these couples will find it difficult to prove their Jewish status when they come to marry in years ahead. “We need to appreciate that this is a social crisis that people aren’t thinking about because it doesn’t affect them today,” Rabbi Stav explains. “This is a problem that will impact future generations and the Jewish future of Israel.”
Tzohar is currently launching an international fundraising campaign to fund the Tel Aviv center. Among those backing the effort are Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom who described Tzohar as having brought light into the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews. “Tzohar does what we need to do in this particular day and age when so many Jews feel that somehow the religious world is looking down on them and Tzohar is going out to this community and saying be part of this heritage because it is yours as much as it is ours.”
The Tzohar Center in Tel Aviv will be named in memory of Rabbi Elyashiv Knohl, a revered figure in the Israeli rabbinical and religious world. Rabbi Knohl directed the Tzohar Marriage Project and developed the vision for the inclusive and compassionate approach that attracted tens of thousands of couples to marry through the organization. The Center will serve as a ‘one stop shop’ for couples including registration offices and bridal counseling. The Center will also house its own mikvah where brides can immerse ahead of their weddings in a setting that respects their personal privacy and dignity.
“This is a project that can literally bring a new face to Tel Aviv and transform this most special time in one’s life from an experience many feel as coercive and imposing to one of unity and compassion for every Jew,” says Rabbi Stav.
For more information and to support the campaign, please visit www.charidy.com/tzohartlv