Mother changing baby diaper.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The Council of the Chief Rabbinate has formally approved a proposal that judges in the rabbinical and civil family courts should take into account the financial situation of both the father and mother of a child when determining the level of child support payments in a divorce settlement.
Both the rabbinical courts and the civil family courts determine child support payments for Jewish children based on Jewish law. This is a formula inherited from Mandate law, and before that Ottoman law, in which issues pertaining to religious matters, such as marriage and divorce, were determined by the religious authorities of the different religious communities.
Jewish law differentiates between the level of obligation of the mother and father when determining child support payments, and puts heavier obligations on the father, although this changes with the age of the child. The father carries the primary obligation for basic necessities such as health care, food and clothes for children under the age of 15. The de facto threshold for such needs is approximately NIS 1,300 per child per month, which is paid by the father.
Other costs are such as rent or mortgage payments, education costs and other matters are divided between both the mother and father to differing degrees.
Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, the director of the state’s Rabbinical Courts system, told The Jerusalem Post that the new decision asks judges to bear in mind the economic situation of mothers in regard to all costs and financial responsibilities applicable in child support payments. He noted that the step was a formal decision of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, but not a directive.
On Monday, Yaakobi spoke to the Council of the Chief Rabbinate about the issue, pointing out that there had been a significant change in the status of women since the end of the Mandate era, when the current directives were determined by the council.
“There is a need to give an updated interpretation to the directive that will be consistent with a sense of justice and the value of equality,” said Yaakobi.
“Explicit clarification of this issue will likely assist in solving divorce disputes, since the imposition of high costs by some of the family courts in accordance with the current approach sometimes creates divorce refusal [by men] and hinders a divorce settlement for a quarreling couple.”
MK Yoav Kisch, who recently initiated legislation supporting greater participation of women in child support responsibilities, welcomed the Chief Rabbinate’s decision.
Others, however, accused the Chief Rabbinate of accommodating Jewish law to the changed realities of modern women in regard to child support payments, but not in regard to issues of Jewish law that frequently put women at a disadvantage when getting divorced – leading to the common phenomenon in which men, although sometimes women as well, refuse to grant a divorce.
“It seems that when they want, Jewish law can be accommodated to modern times, but only when this is convenient,” said MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin (Zionist Union).
“The rabbinate has once again taken an unbalanced decision that weakens women in the divorce process. All discussion on increased obligations for women in the divorce process must take place alongside a general discussion about the divorce process in Israel, in which women are still the weaker side with fewer rights.
It would have been appropriate to examine whether the rabbinate will, in parallel, commit to not force reconciliation on women; prevent divorce refusal; and not disconnect women from their mothers if women decide not to continue living a religious lifestyle [after divorcing].”
Professor Ruth Halperin-Kadari, director of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women, said that since the step taken by the chief rabbinate was in the form of a decision and not a directive, it would have little impact, if any.
Halperin-Kadari noted that women already do bear the costs of raising children aside from the basic necessities covered by the approximate NIS 1,300 required of fathers to pay, and said therefore that there was little new in Chief Rabbinate’s decision.
“My assumption is that this new decision is a public relations exercise to show that the Chief Rabbinate can accommodate itself to modern realities in order to fend of the recommendations of the Shifman committee, which proposes to pass a new law in which issues such as child support payments would be based on secular law and would be the same for all parents and children in Israel, regardless of their religion,” she told the Post.
The Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah national-religious lobbying group also called for extending the same attitude demonstrated by the Chief Rabbinate regarding child support to other issues regarding divorce in Israel.
“We are happy to hear from the Council of the Chief Rabbinate that there is a change significant change in the status of women in our times. Social change as a consideration in Jewish law is something that is welcome, and it would have been good if the Council of the Chief Rabbinate had given authority to women [to serve] as female rabbinical judges or arbiters of Jewish law.
At the end of the day, it is men alone who stand in these courts and the integration of women as rabbinical judges is a necessity, as the rabbinate itself ruled, of the change in the status of women in our times.”