(photo credit: screenshot)
The Religious Services Ministry has agreed to appoint a female deputy director of the rabbinical courts administration, following pressure from the High Court of Justice.
The agreement stems from a request by the women’s rights organization Mavoi Satum for an interim order against the ministry requiring it to appoint a female deputy director, which itself came about due to a Mavoi Satum petition to allow women to compete for the position of director of the rabbinical courts.
Following criticism by the court over the state’s foot-dragging over the issue of the deputy director, Religious Services Ministry director Oded Flus issued a signed declaration on Monday stating that the ministry would begin a search for a female deputy director of the courts within 14 days, a process that must end within three months.
The ministry will first try to identify a female deputy director of another ministry to appoint to the rabbinical courts. Failing that, legislation will be considered to allow an appointment that would specifically require a woman for the position.
Flus noted that funding for the position is already in place.
Mavoi Satum director Batya Kahana-Dror said the step constituted an important precedent in that a woman was for the first time being appointed to a senior administrative position within the rabbinical courts network.
Women are prevented by the ministry and the rabbinical courts administration from serving as rabbinical judges, so Mavoi Satum has sought to have women appointed to administrative positions within the system that do not ostensibly require knowledge of Jewish law.
However, women are currently prevented from being director of the rabbinical courts, since the position requires a candidate to be a qualified rabbi, something the rabbinate will not allow women to apply for either.
Mavoi Satum currently has an open petition against this and other requirements preventing women from filling this position. While deliberating on this issue, the High Court requested several months ago that the rabbinical courts appoint a deputy director.
Despite the victory for the women’s rights group, Flus’s declaration does not include what authority the deputy director will have. Kahana- Dror has in the past recommended that some of the authorities include being responsible for the legal training of rabbinical judges and regulations of rabbinical court hearings, disciplinary hearings and oversight on the effective working of the aguna (a Jewish woman who is “chained” to her marriage) department of the courts administration.
“We happily welcome the entrance of a women to the male pantheon of the rabbinical courts, but see this as merely the first achievement in our struggle to have a female director appointed and further ahead even the appointment of female rabbinical judges,” said Kahana-Dror on Wednesday.
She added that her organization hopes the deputy director would be able to have a real impact and that the rabbinical courts administration would “allow her to work for the betterment of women’s rights and the prevention of discrimination against them.”