The nation’s first female haredi judge was praised by President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Tuesday, at an appointment ceremony at the President’s Residence.
Havi Toker, whose husband said that in the English media she should be referred to as Eva, has been touted as the first female haredi judge in Israel, although there have been other female Orthodox judges who covered their hair and wore modest clothing.
Born in England, Toker, the oldest of 12 siblings, grew up in Bnei Brak. She clerked in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, and subsequently worked as an attorney in the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department and later in the Jerusalem District-Attorney’s Office. The 41-year-old mother of four has been appointed to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
Shaked told Toker that she was making history. The justice minister said she hoped that Toker would be the pioneer flag bearer who leapt into stormy waters and be an inspirational symbol to many others from the haredi community.
The president also expressed pride in the appointment, as one of his goals as president has been to promote the integration of haredim and Arabs into mainstream professions and employment.
Another of the judges appointed on Tuesday was Samach Sabr Masawah. Masawah, who was born in Taibe, will also be serving as a judge in Jerusalem, said the president.
In November 2016, Rachel Freier, a mother of six, made headlines in the United States when she became the first Hassidic woman to be sworn in as a judge in the state of New York.
Unusually, of 11 appointments made at the ceremony on Tuesday, 10 were to Jerusalem- based courts.
Both Shaked and Rivlin spoke of the importance of restoring public confidence in the courts. “We live in an era in which the judges are being judged,” said Rivlin, cautioning the judges not to allow anything other than the facts to influence their decisions, and to remain impervious to condemnation by the public.
Shaked said that it was essential for the different sectors of the public to feel that they were being represented in the courts, and this was why she was making every effort to ensure that sufficiently qualified jurists from every sector of society be appointed a judge. Up until the end of the 1970s, she said, it was extremely rare for a Sephardi to be appointed a judge.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said that Tuesday’s ceremony was a milestone in the career of each of the appointees.
She remind them that it was their mission to serve the public fairly, to protect the weak and to remember above all that they are dealing with the lives of human beings, and that efficiency should not be at the expense of sensitivity and dignity.
She also spoke about the value of technology to the courts and lawyers who are researching case histories as precedents for cases they are currently handling, but warned that technology harbors many risks as well.
She was very pleased to welcome Ofer Grosskopf to the Supreme Court and said that she was confident that his academic and practical experience would contribute greatly to the judicial discourse.
SHAKED NOTED that there is now a female triumvirate in the court system, in that Shaked is justice minister, Hayut is Supreme Court president and the newly appointed president of the National Labor Court is its former deputy president Varda Wirth Livne. Shaked also mentioned “two excellent Ethiopian [female] judges” who had been appointed in December 2016.
She praised Wirth Livne’s humanity, vast knowledge of the law and her leadership.
Wirth Livne is succeeding Yigal Plitman, stepping down after 30 years on the benches of district and labor courts.
Rivlin commented that the only reason that Plitman is leaving the labor court is that he has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. “The State of Israel is also 70, but it’s here to stay,” quipped Rivlin.
After working with Wirth Livne for the best part of three decades, Plitman said that there could be no more suitable person to head the National Labor Court and that he had no doubt that she would be successful.
Comparing the period when he began working in the labor courts to the present time, Plitman said that society was more aware and respectful of human rights, recognizing that men, women and foreign workers all have equal rights.
Wirth Livne pledged to uphold all the values of equality. It was a bittersweet moment for her as her mother, a Holocaust survivor who had lost her whole family during the war and started anew, died less than a month ago.
Grosskopf, speaking on behalf of his fellow judges, said that for each of them, this was the realization of a dream, although all of them had enjoyed successful careers before coming to their new roles. They did not seek to become judges, he said, but they were happy to be given the opportunity to exercise their potential and their knowledge for the benefit of society. “We all come from different backgrounds and collectively have a lot to contribute.”
There has been long-standing debate in Israel as to whether the courts have arrogated more power to themselves than what the law provides, he said.
In Grosskopf’s view, the courts have not overstepped the mark. “It is important for the court system to be independent and professional,” he insisted.
He went on to thank all his teachers and the legal experts who had made him conscious of different aspects of law. He named each of them and what he had learned from them. He was particularly grateful to former justice minister Prof. Daniel Friedman, who had been his mentor at Tel Aviv University. “Without him, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
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