Haredim take control of rabbinical judges appointments committee

Liberal activist groups expressed their concern about the change in the balance of power on the committee.

September 22, 2016 18:20
3 minute read.
The dayanim of the new Supreme Rabbinical Court met with the chief of the court Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef

The dayanim of the new Supreme Rabbinical Court met with the chief of the court Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. (photo credit: COURTESY SPOKESPERSON OF THE RABBINICAL COURTS)

The balance of power on the appointments committee for rabbinical judges swung in favor of the haredi religious establishment, after two haredi Supreme Rabbinical Court judges were elected to the committee on Thursday.

The judges elected to the appointments committee were Rabbi Yaakov Zamir – a close associate and study partner of Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef – and Rabbi Avraham Shindler. The appointments were approved in a vote of the ten supreme rabbinical court judges and Chief Rabbis Yosef and David Lau, who also serve as judges on the court.

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There are now 11 members on the committee, five of whom are haredi, including the two chief rabbis, the two Supreme Rabbinical Court judges, and United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler.

National Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz of the Likud is largely seen as beholden to the haredi parties, since they have frequently threatened severe political consequences against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should rabbinical judges who are not favored by them be appointed.

Last September, The Jerusalem Post reported that Shas chairman Arye Deri threatened to topple the government if three liberal candidates for the regional rabbinical courts were appointed, and they were duly rejected.

The term of rabbinical courts advocate and appointments committee member Dr. Rachel Levmore is due to expire, and Religious Services Minister David Azoulay of Shas will select her replacement.

In the latest round of appointments over the past 12 months, the committee was down to only nine members, since there were no serving judges on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, and a block of four women on the panel gave greater weight to the non-haredi representatives.

Following the selection of the rabbinical judges to the committee on Thursday, liberal activists groups expressed their concern about the change in the balance of power on the committee.

“Although we know that there is no direct correlation between the size and type of a judge’s kippa and ideology to his halachic approach, we are afraid that the fact that a clear and stable majority of [the] committee is haredi will have significant implications for the approach of the rabbinical courts in the very near future,” said Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kadari, director of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women at Bar-Ilan University.

Attorney Batya Kehana- Dror of the Mavoi Satum women’s rights group, said that the selection of the two judges to the appointments committee had been heavily influenced by political actors in the haredi parties, Deri in particular.

The persons who controlled the appointment of the rabbinical judges and the appointment of the Supreme Rabbinical Court judges to the committee are Shas figures and Interior Minister Arye Deri, who control the Religious Services Ministry and the rabbinical courts “as if it was their own backyard,” said Kehana-Dror.

She also expressed concern over what she described as the control over the appointments committee by Yosef, who she said recently stated that when confronted with a case in which a man’s wife refuses to accept a divorce, he gives him permission to have a second wife.

Just like a man must willingly grant a bill of divorce to terminate a marriage, so too must a women willingly accept it.

Divorce refusal by women is not uncommon, although it occurs to a lesser extent than divorce refusal by men, according to activists groups.

Under Jewish law, men may have more than one wife, although the practice was banned for Ashkenazi Jews by a decree of Rabbi Gershom Ben Judah in the 11th century, know as the Dispensation of 100 Rabbis. However, a man may be given dispensation from this decree in certain circumstances if he cannot obtain consent from his wife for a divorce.

This solution for divorce refusal does not exist for women, since Jewish law prohibits women from having more than one husband.

“When I see a [divorce] case being dragged out for several years, I give permission for a second wife,” said Yosef two weeks ago at a remembrance ceremony for Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook. “If [the case involves] Ashkenazim, I authorize the 100 rabbis decree.”

Kehana-Dror said that the imbalance in solutions for divorce refusal, between what is available to men versus women, “creates an unjust balance of power in divorce proceedings and the extortion and abuse surrounding the granting of a bill of divorce [to a woman].”

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