Bayit Yehudi to oppose changes to rabbinical judges appointments committee

Faction steps back from responsibility for religion and state issues.

May 12, 2015 19:58
3 minute read.
Bayit Yehudi holds memorial faction meeting for Uri Orbach.

Bayit Yehudi holds memorial faction meeting for Uri Orbach.. (photo credit: GUR DOTAN)


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Bayit Yehudi has secured the right in its coalition agreement with the Likud to oppose legislation that will be initiated by United Torah Judaism to expand the Appointments Committee for Rabbinical Judges.

The national-religious party said it is not willing to allow the current composition of the committee to be altered after it worked hard to guarantee four places for women on the panel in the last government.

However, Bayit Yehudi officials have stated that the agreement was drafted in a way that will see the Likud take responsibility for some of the central concerns on religion and state matters, since the prime minister gave Shas and not Bayit Yehudi control over the Religious Services Ministry.

Last week, Bayit Yehudi came under fierce attack from several women’s rights groups regarding possible changes to the committee. However, the party’s coalition agreement specifically allows it to oppose legislation proposed by UTJ that would dilute the influence of the four guaranteed women on the committee.

Given the coalition’s tiny majority, Bayit Yehudi will likely be able to stymie UTJ’s proposed legislation.

Bayit Yehudi’s agreement also guarantees that one of the two ministerial positions on the committee will be taken by the party.

The committee is seen by women’s and divorce rights groups as a critical gateway to the liberalization of the rabbinical courts, which, they claim, do not use the full range of tools at their disposal to punish recalcitrant husbands who refuse to grant their wives a bill of divorce, thus preventing them from remarrying.

Preserving the current composition of the committee gives greater power to more liberal committee members to block the appointment of more conservative and stringent rabbinical judges but does not give them a blocking majority.

The 11-member committee comprises the two chief rabbis; two serving rabbinical judges on the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem; two ministers; two MKs; two attorneys from the Israel Bar Association; and one female rabbinical court advocate.

Appointing a rabbinical judge to one of the 12 regional rabbinical courts requires a simple majority of six votes, and appointing a rabbinical judge to the Supreme Rabbinical Court requires eight votes.

The appointments process has been frozen for several years due to legal appeals, which has led to a situation in which there are currently 21 unfilled positions in the regional courts – almost 30 percent of all rabbinical judge positions nationwide – with another three judges due to retire shortly.

There are another five empty seats on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, with another two to be vacated by the end of the year.

During the last Knesset, the panel was chaired by MK Tzipi Livni, a position afforded her by her role as Justice Minister.

The chairman of the committee can prevent any appointments simply by refusing to convene the committee. Divorce rights groups strongly criticized Bayit Yehudi for giving up this position to the Likud, which they believe will act in accordance with the demands of the haredi parties on this issue.

Attorney Batya Kahana-Dror, the head of the divorce rights Mavoi Satum organization, expressed concern about possible appointments to the rabbinical courts, despite the decreased likelihood of the committee being expanded in accordance with the wishes of UTJ and Shas.

“I hope that Bayit Yehudi, despite having conceded [control] over all religious services and control of the rabbinical courts and [having] left them in the hands of religious conservatives, will fight for appropriate and brave judges rabbinical judges,” she said.

“Unfortunately, we are collapsing under the large number of women who have been refused a divorce who have turned to us for help and who need rabbinical judges who recognize their distress and want to help find a solution.”

Dr. Rachel Levmore, the director of the Agunah and Get-Refusal Prevention Project of the International Young Israel Movement in Israel and the Jewish Agency, said that “the stakes have never been higher than right now” for the future approach of Jewish law on personal status issues, due to the large number of rabbinical justices the coming committee will have to appoint.

“With such a large number of rabbinical judges to be appointed, the committee can set halachic policy and lead it for generations, which is why it is outrageous that the committee is so politicized, with politicians essentially determining halachic policy in the most delicate field of Jewish law, personal status, for generations to come.”

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