A bill to reserve four spots on the committee that appoints rabbinical judges
for women was passed into law in the early hours of Tuesday morning, but not
before haredi MKs repeatedly stalled the legislative process due to their
vehement opposition to the terms of measure.
Every single MK of the
haredi parties, numbering 19 in total, filed procedural reservations to the
bill, with several of those members using the full 30 minutes of debate time
allocated for every reservation to stall the passage of the law. The bill
finally passed its second and third readings (final) at 4 a.m.
addition to the four spots it reserves for women, the law will also expand the
panel from 10 to 11 members, with the extra member being a qualified female
rabbinical courts advocate.
The law means that at least one of government
delegates to the panel, one of the Knesset delegates and one of the Israel Bar
Association delegates will be a woman. The rabbinical courts advocate will be
the fourth female member.
MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) – one of the
architects of the law, along with Bayit Yehudi’s Shuli Muallem and Meretz
chairwoman Zahava Gal-On – said that she had fulfilled one of her promises upon
being elected to the Knesset with the passage of the law.
“Four women on
the committee for appointing rabbinical judges is the beginning [of a process]
to rectify the discrimination against women that exists today in the rabbinical
courts system,” Lavie said after the law was passed.
“The mixed variety
of committee members will lead to the appointment of more moderate and attentive
rabbinical judges, who are more involved in the Israeli society of 2013,” the
Yesh Atid MK said.
Gal-On said that the law corrected the “skewed reality
in which only men make decisions on issues that relate principally on the lives
Women’s rights activists see the committee as a crucial forum
to advance women’s divorce rights since they believe that the appointment of
more moderate rabbinical judges will lead to greater protection for women from
extortion in divorce proceedings, which forms a large part of the work of the
rabbinical courts system.
“The rabbinical courts are controlled today by
reactionary rabbis, all of whom are men, with a proven record of discrimination
against women, the extortion of women whose husbands refuse to grant a bill of
divorce and a disregard for property law,” Gal-On added.
parties opposed the initiative fearing that liberal-minded judges will employ a
more tempered interpretation of Jewish law in their rulings, especially in
regards to matters of marriage and divorce.
The Rackman Center for the
Advancement of the Status of Women welcomed the passage of the law, calling it a
“The identity of the elected rabbinical judges
influences the spirit of rulings on marriage and divorce, as well as other very
sensitive issues,” Rackman Center director Prof. Ruth Halperin
“There is, therefore, great importance in the fact that women will
take part in the appointments process, especially since the judges themselves
are still only male,” she added.
Susan Weiss, director of the Center for
Women’s Justice, also welcomed the new law. She pointed out that following the
failure of the Israel Bar Association to re-elect to its slot on the committee a
woman, her organization, along with several other women’s rights groups, filed a
petition with the High Court of Justice 18 months ago demanding that at least
four women be included on the committee.
“Because this committee, through
its appointment of rabbinic judges, holds the fate of women of Israel in its
hands, symbolic representation, and certainly the lack of representation, is not
acceptable. The amendment indicates that the legislature understands that public
commissions such as these must include proportional female representation,” said
For the past 18 months there have been no women at all on the
committee, although that changed two weeks ago after internal Knesset elections
to the committee saw Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Muallem join Justice Minister Tzipi
Livni on the panel.
With the passage of the law last night, the female
rabbinical courts advocate will now be added to the committee, so that there
will be a total of three female members of the committee.
of four spots for women will only take effect with the election of a new Knesset
and the subsequent governmental and Knesset appointments to the
Because of the absence of women from the committee, the Center for
Women’s Justice and the Emunah women’s rights group submitted a High Court
petition at the end of 2011 which argued that the lack of female representation
on the committee violated gender equality law. The petition was accepted by the
court, which froze the rabbinical judge appointments process – a freeze which
has remained in place since.