Senior haredi figures called for the expansion of the rabbinical courts’ authority in Israel, at an annual rabbinical conference on Tuesday organized by the World Center of Torah Law.

Hundreds of rabbis and rabbinical judges gathered in Jerusalem for the event, including Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, senior haredi MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) and both chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger.

Gafni delivered the opening speech of the conference Monday night, and drew attention to the failure of haredi political parties to pass a law giving rabbinical courts authority to deal with cases pertaining to monetary and property law.

Rabbinical courts in Israel are currently only authorized to deal with issues of marriage and divorce and certain other matters relating to personal status. At present, only civil courts can rule on issues of monetary and property law.

During his speech, Gafni, who is chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, said that the government had prevented haredi parties from advancing legislation on the issue, despite commitments made to them in the coalition agreement.

“We need to understand that we are in a cultural war [with those] who don’t want the rabbinical courts to have any standing,” Gafni said. “During the last Knesset term we succeeded in preventing any anti-religious legislation being passed, and not a day goes past on which they don’t try and pass such laws.

“In the coming Knesset, the haredi representatives will unite to fight for whether this is a Jewish state or not, in the struggle is over the world of Torah, yeshiva students, the rabbinical world and the status of rabbinical courts.”

Amar was also outspoken in his support for increased authority for the rabbinical courts.

“It’s unbelievable that the Jewish state prevents two people from voluntarily turning to the rabbinical courts for a case [of monetary and property law], while in every other place around the world they give authority to recognized arbitrators,” the Sephardi chief rabbi said.

One of the principal goals of the World Center of Torah Law is the integration of civil law derived from the Torah into the Israeli legal system.

Speaking at the conference, Neeman said that “Torah has answers to all the social issues with which we are dealing with today. The solution to many of these problems is mutual responsibility.”

Kiryat Ono Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, the principal architect of the conference and a member of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, said that the gathering was an important tool for advancing “the assimilation of [civil aspects of] Torah law into our lives.”

“We must remember that there is no need to search for legal answers from the laws and justice [systems] around the world when we have God’s Torah and the laws of the Torah,” Arusi said.

“The state must allow rabbinical judges in rabbinical courts to hear cases of monetary and property law...

which would allow the huge community which wants the rabbinical courts to have this authority to be judged according to Torah law.”

Hiddush, a religious-freedom lobbying group, strongly criticized the proponents of increased authority for rabbinical courts.

“The demand to broaden the jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts is scandalous and contradicts the ruling of the Supreme Court [on the matter],” said Hiddush director, attorney and Rabbi Uri Regev.

Regev also pointed out that individuals are able to turn to a private rabbinical court outside of the state’s rabbinical court system, for a ruling on cases of monetary and property law if they so wish.

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