Following almost nine months of Byzantine politicking and intrigue, nine new judges were appointed to the Supreme Rabbinical Court late Tuesday night.
Although most of the nine committee members praised themselves for finally making the appointments, criticism was voiced both from within and outside the committee the Bayit Yehudi Party capitulated to Shas vetoes over several liberal, national-religious candidates.
Committee member Dr. Rachel Levmore said that fellow member and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked had surrendered to all of Shas’s vetoes, while Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav said Shaked and Bayit Yehudi had failed to appoint the best candidates.
The accepted convention for appointing rabbinical judges is that United Torah Judaism, Shas and Bayit Yehudi divide up the appointments between themselves so that each party appoints a third of the total positions available.
Despite this convention, Shas and Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef in particular objected to some of the leading candidates proposed by liberal members of the committee as Bayit Yehudi appointments.
During the months of negotiations, Yosef said he would not agree to the appointment of either Rabbis Uriel Lavie or Yair Ben-Menachem, two candidates who have been praised for their erudition and liberal approach to critical issues, such as divorce refusal and conversion.
Yosef had also insisted that there be a majority of Sephardi rabbinical judges on the Supreme Court, and therefore insisted that one of the Bayit Yehudi candidates be of his choosing.
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Shaked eventually conceded to this demand, although she suggested increasing the number of appointments to satisfy Deputy Defense Minister and Bayit Yehudi MK Eli Ben-Dahan, who was insistent that Rabbi Shlomo Shapira be appointed.
The Sephardi national-religious rabbi appointed was Rabbi Iluz Tzion Luz, having got backing from Bayit Yehudi and Yosef, while Shapira was also elected.
They join Rabbi Eliezer Igra, appointed several weeks ago, as the three national religious rabbis on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Ben-Menachem, who is also Sephardi, was not elected due to Yosef’s veto and Shaked’s refusal to insist upon his appointment.
Levmore said that the appointments “ranged from satisfactory to very good,” and pointed out that five of the total 10 judges appointed to the court have served in the IDF, noting that this is the first time ever in which IDF veterans have sat on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
“On the other hand, I am deeply disturbed that Bayit Yehudi did not stand up to any of the vetoes of Shas,” she told The Jerusalem Post
. “It pains the Jewish citizens of Israel that the rabbinical judges who hold legal authority over their personal lives are appointed not by merit but rather by political wheeling and dealing.”
Stav said some of the appointees were good, but he decried Shaked’s “capitulation to the dictates of haredi politicos.”
Stav told the Post
that whether or not candidates are haredi or national religious is irrelevant, and that instead the rabbinical judges should be picked on merit. “But Bayit Yehudi folded when it came to insisting that those rabbis who have taken the bravest positions should be appointed,” said the rabbi.
“Because of the unfortunate decision of the committee, Bayit Yehudi, led by Ayelet Shaked, sent a message that those rabbis who express courageous opinions on divorce refusal, conversions and similar issues cannot get elected and will not advance in their careers.”
Shaked, however, rejected these criticisms and said that it was the first time so many national-religious rabbinical judges had been elected to the Supreme Rabbinical Court and labeled it a “historic” achievement.
She also claimed that four national-religious judges had been appointed, including appointee Rabbi Michael Amos, although he is widely seen as being haredi.
“This is an achievement for the State of Israel and the citizens of Israel,” Shaked said. “Today brilliant and elite rabbis have been elected who will take the rabbinical courts forward.”
The Mavoi Satum women’s rights group issued a strong objection to the appointment of one of the Shas candidates, Rabbi Yitzhak Elmaliach, which the group described as “a judge who excels in dragging out divorce cases, including cases of women who have experienced violence and been refused a divorce.”
Mavoi Satum director Batya Kehana Dror said the organization would be submitting a petition to the High Court of Justice to prevent Elmaliach’s appointment.
The 10 rabbis appointed to the Supreme Rabbinical Court are Rabbi Yitzhak Elmaliach; Rabbi Eliyahu Refael Hirshik; Rabbi Yaakov Zamir; Rabbi Aharon Katz; Rabbi Michael Amos; Rabbi Shlomo Shapira; Rabbi Eliuz Tzion Luz; Rabbi Maimon Nahari; and Rabbi Avraham Shindler.
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