In the latest chapter of an ongoing battle between vying religious powers, the State Attorney's Office asked Monday for a 30-day extension to answer four separate High Court petitions against the recent appointment of 15 religious judges.
Sharon Rotshenker, deputy state attorney, asked for the extension, citing the recent Pessah holiday as the reason for the delay in responding to the petitions.
The Israel Bar Association and a coalition of women's rights' groups petitioned the High Court against the appointments, claiming that a disproportionate number of haredi judges were chosen.
But more surprising were the petitions of two Orthodox organizations: Tzohar Rabbis and Emunah, an organization of religious Zionist women.
The petitioners claim that Shas, a government coalition member, and United Torah Judaism, who has voiced willingness to support the government on certain issues, have monopolized the appointment process.
"Rabbis [Yosef Shalom] Elyashiv and Ovadia [Yosef] are calling the shots," said Sharon Shenhav, the Israel Bar Association's representative on the Committee for the Appointment of Religious Judges. "All the appointments were decided in advance without due diligence, no interviews, no discussions, nothing."
Marital law in Israel, where there is no separation between Church and State, is governed by Halacha (Jewish Law). The most sensitive subject dealt with by the religious judges is the plight of agunot, literally chained women. These are women unable to complete the divorce process because their recalcitrant husbands, who are trying to negotiate a more favorable monetary agreement, refuse to provide a divorce writ.
Some critics of the haredi appointments claim that haredi judges are less sympathetic to the women and, therefore, less willing to find solutions.
However, Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan and a leading religious Zionist halachic authority, rejected this criticism, arguing that both haredim and religious Zionists follow the same Halacha. He said it was dangerous to present religious Zionists as "reformers" as it could undermine their authority. Rather, Ariel opposed the appointment process as unfair.