Bills to let women choose rabbinical judges passes hurdle

"It's incomprehensible that women not only cannot be religious judges, but cannot influence who the judges are," Livni says as bills pass preliminary readings.

May 1, 2013 17:46
2 minute read.
Bayit Yehudi's SHULI MUALLEM

Bayit Yehudi's SHULI MUALLEM 370. (photo credit: Bayit Yehudi)


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The committee that appoints judges to rabbinical courts is on its way to counting women among its members, as two bills on the topic passed preliminary readings in the Knesset on Wednesday.

The bills – one proposed by MKs Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi) and Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and another by MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) – would require the committee to have female members.

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“It’s incomprehensible that women not only cannot be religious judges but cannot influence who the judges are,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said, presenting the government’s position in favor of the bills.

Haredi MKs spoke out against the bill, saying they see the legislation as discriminatory.

“This bill says something that, if it were said about the (secular) courts would cause outrage – that there is not true justice in the rabbinical courts,” MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas), a former religious services minister, said.

“Hypocrites, I’m sick of you!” MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) shouted.

“Maybe there should be more female ministers, deputy ministers and Knesset committee chairwomen. Why are you lecturing haredim?” Currently, the committee that appoints religious judges has 10 members: the two chief rabbis, two judges from the High Rabbinical Court, the justice minister and another minister, two MKs and two representatives of the Bar Association.

Muallem and Lavie’s bill would require that at least one person in every category except rabbis and judges be a woman, and would add an 11th committee member – a female rabbinical pleader, who represents the interests of women in rabbinical court hearings. It passed the preliminary reading with 63 MKs in favor and 15 opposed.

Gal-On’s bill would require at least two women – an MK and a Bar Association representative – to be on the committee, and was approved in a preliminary reading with 60 in favor and 15 opposed.

Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, chairwoman of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, welcomed the progress on the legislation.

Halperin-Kaddari and the Rackman Center are active in fighting for the rights of agunot, or “chained women,” whose husbands will not give them a get, or a halachic bill of divorce.

“Rabbinical courts are part of the legal system in Israel, and half the public who appears before them are women. Despite this, the previous committee to appoint rabbinical judges did not include even one woman,” Halperin-Kaddari said.

Halperin-Kaddari called the current situation “formal discrimination” of women, excluding them from a forum that makes decisions influencing their lives.

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