(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
In what has been hailed as a groundbreaking decision, the High Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that women must be allowed to apply for the position of director of the state rabbinical courts system.
The petition was brought to the court by women’s rights groups Na’amat, Mavoi Satum and Wizo.
The former director of rabbinical courts retired from the position in August 2014.
Following which, Mavoi Satum director Batya Kehana- Dror submitted an application for the position, but was rejected since she did not fulfill the criteria for the job, which required that candidates have qualifications to serve either as a rabbinical court judge or a municipal chief rabbi.
The High Court’s ruling states that there is no reason that a woman should not serve as the director of the rabbinical courts system and that the qualifications criteria were unnecessary and impractical.
The justices also recommend that the network begins to immediately integrate women into other senior positions in order to accustom itself to the ruling, and it gave the state 30 days to draw up new criteria for the position.
The plaintiffs will have a right to reply to the criteria once they have been submitted to the court.
Once the criteria have been established, the court will give the state a deadline by which to make a permanent appointment to the position of rabbinical courts director.
The position, however, is selected by the president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Appeals Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Religious Services Minister, currently David Azoulay of Shas.
Although it is unlikely that they will select a woman to serve as rabbinical courts director, Kehana-Dror argued that they would now be unable to automatically reject female candidates since the previous qualifications which excluded women have been invalidated.
She said that female candidates would now have to be seriously considered, and any decision-making process that appears to discriminate against female candidates based on gender could subsequently be challenged in court.
The rabbinical courts have exclusive jurisdiction over Jewish marriage and divorce, and their rulings on such issues, among others, have great influence over Jewish religious life in Israel and abroad.
The director of the rabbinical courts network has significant influence within the system and is responsible for the implementation of the regulations pertaining to the rabbinical courts and the correct conduct of the legal procedures of the courts and their various judicial panels.
“This is a dramatic decision which will open a gate that until now was tightly shut to women, and represents a significant milestone in the integration of women in the rabbinical courts system,” said Na’amat, Mavoi Satum and Wizo in a joint statement.
Kehana-Dror described the ruling as groundbreaking and said that it would positively impact the status of women coming before the religious courts as well as improve the status of women in religious institutions.
“After many years of discrimination and the prevention of women from taking up administrative roles in the rabbinical courts, which are responsible for the fate of women who come to their gates, the High Court of Justice ruled that they are of equal value,” said Kehana- Dror.
“The decision is a message to the women that they can and must struggle for their rights and not to capitulate to discrimination.”
Galia Vloch, chairwoman of Na’amat, described the ruling as “a dramatic decision and a great victory for women.”
Said Vloch, “This is an addition in the prevention of discrimination against women in Israeli public life.”
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