A government committee is convening Friday morning at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem to select and appoint nine new rabbinical judges (dayanim) to serve in regional rabbinical courts and two for the High Rabbinical Court.

The first issue the Committee for Appointing Rabbinical Judges will have to decree upon, however, is whether to allow Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan continue as director of the rabbinical courts.

Ben-Dahan has been at the helm of the rabbinical courts for nearly 20 years, and is considered an efficient professional who successfully led the intricate system through important reforms. Recently instated government regulations set time limitations on the tenure of public officials, but former Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz determined that the authority to discontinue the director of the rabbinical courts’ term of office would belong to the committee.

Sources close to the rabbinical courts’ system say that Yaakov Neeman, who as justice minister heads the committee, set the Ben-Dahan issue at the top of the agenda to condition the appointment of other rabbinical judges with the removal of Ben-Dahan, an act Neeman is said to be striving for despite the fact that the candidates for the role of courts’ director are such due to their proximity to Shas and not necessarily their proven skills as administrators.

Though the rabbinical courts in Israel serve any Jew seeking religious services, including marriage and divorce, haredi rabbinical judges are increasing in numbers within them, at times with stringent standards that exceed the general public’s needs and expectations.

In its 2007 session, for example, 12 out of the 15 new dayanim appointed by the committee were haredi. This is possible due to the composition of the ten-man committee, six of whom are haredi – the two chief rabbis, two rabbinical judges, MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) and Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas).

Besides them, the Israeli Bar Association is represented in the committee with two lawyers, and MK Othniel Schneller (Kadima) is the voice of religious Zionism in the group.

Modern orthodox advocacy groups, such as Kolech, Tzohar and Neemanei Torah V’Avoda have in recent weeks been active in trying to prevent the committee from convening and ultimately dismissing Ben-Dahan, who himself is closer to modern orthodoxy.

The Jerusalem Post was informed that Neeman reached a deal with Shas, according to which Ben-Dahan will be replaced by one of theirs, despite the fact that Neeman himself is a modern orthodox jurist who was appointed as minister at the bequest of Israel Beiteinu. The Justice Ministry has been consistent in denying that the discussion on Ben-Dahan pertains to anything but good governance.

It is unlikely that the committee will reach a decision to dismiss Ben-Dahan during today’s meeting, however, due to the current objection of the Ashkenazi haredi members of the committee to the move.

Nevertheless, members of the groups objecting the possibility of replacing Ben-Dahan will be protesting outside the Justice Ministry at the time of the committee’s Friday morning session.

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