The rabbis of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate.
(photo credit: CHIEF RABBINATE)
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau have written a letter expressing their opposition to appointing a woman as director of the Rabbinical Courts system, in light of a petition to the High Court of Justice that is examining the issue.
The last director, Rabbi Shlomo Daichovsky, stepped down in August 2014, after which lawyer Batya Kahana- Dror, the director of the Mavoi Satum (Dead End) divorce rights organization, submitted her candidacy for the job.
The law states, however, that a candidate either be serving or qualified as a rabbinical judge or a municipal chief rabbi. Women are not permitted to take the exams for such positions by the Chief Rabbinate.
Kahana-Dror says she was formally listed as a candidate by the Chief Rabbinate, but her candidacy has never been properly examined and she was not interviewed for the position.
In the interim, Yosef, in his capacity as president of the Rabbinical Courts system, together with Religious Services Minister David Azoulay of Shas used their authority to appoint Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi as temporary director.
Kahana-Dror objected, claiming it gave him an unfair advantage in the appointment process for the permanent director.
The position of the Rabbinical Courts director carries significant administrative power, including the ability to call disciplinary hearings for rabbinical judges believed to not be working in accordance with accepted guidelines.
The director may instruct rabbinical judges to hold a hearing on the implementation of sanctions against a recalcitrant husband or wife who refuses to give their spouse a bill of divorce after being so ordered by a Rabbinical Court.
Sanctions can include confiscation of a driving license, passport and even imprisonment, but are seldom used by the Rabbinical Courts.
The law as it stands requires a Rabbinical Court to hold a hearing into the implementation of sanctions if 30 days pass after the court instructed the spouse in question to give the bill of divorce, but this does not always occur.
The two chief rabbis wrote, in a letter dated August 27, that the requirements for applicants are to ensure that the director is well versed and knowledgeable of the running of the Rabbinical Courts and of the Jewish laws pertaining to marriage, divorce and Jewish status.
“Only someone who comes from within this system, and understands the aspects of Jewish law it deals with can serve as director of this system,” the chief rabbis wrote, saying that this was why they support the conditions of having qualifications to be a rabbinical judge or municipal chief rabbi as requirements for candidacy.
They did not, however, say explicitly that they are opposed to a women’s candidacy, likely due to the legal ramifications of such a position.
Kahana-Dror said that since the Chief Rabbinate prevents women from taking rabbinical ordination exams women are automatically excluded from the state-paid position of director of the Rabbinical Courts, which Mavoi Satum’s High Court petition claims contravenes the Basic Laws of Human Dignity and Liberty and Freedom of Occupation.
“I have long-term experience with the Rabbinical Courts system, having worked within it for many years, and I am very much aware of what needs to be changed and addressed in order to restore public faith into this system that is so sorely lacking in recent times,” said Kahana- Dror.
The next hearing of the High Court on the issue is set for September 20.