The cabinet on Sunday gave the green light to transfer authority over the rabbinical courts from the Justice Ministry to the Religious Services Ministry and over the conversion system from the Religious Services Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office, fulfilling one of the demands made by Shas in its coalition deal with the Likud.
Women’s rights groups, on Thursday, challenged the transfer in a petition to the High Court of Justice, claiming the professional standards of the rabbinical courts will be compromised if authority over them is transferred away from the Justice Ministry.
The High Court decided not to issue an injunction against the transfer, but said it would hold a hearing shortly on the petition and required the defendants, including the justice minister, religious services minister, attorney general, Shas and Likud to respond to the petition seven days before the date on which the hearing will be held.
Although it did not appear in the Likud-Shas coalition agreement, the cabinet also approved transferring the authority to appoint a female rabbinical court advocate to the Committee for Appointing Rabbinical Judges from the justice minister to the religious services minister.
Legislation passed in 2013 by the last government, proposed and advanced by former Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and current Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, guaranteed that four women would be present on the 11-member rabbinical judges appointments committee, a key forum for influencing the rabbinical courts.
One of those four positions is guaranteed to be a female rabbinical court advocate, which the legislation said would be appointed by the Justice Minister. Sunday’s decision means, however, the position will be appointed by the Religious Services Minister instead, currently Shas MK David Azoulay.
The decision likely will require Knesset approval, however, which could be a lengthy and difficult process given coalition tensions between the haredi parties and other MKs in the coalition who are concerned for the rights and standing of women who come before the rabbinical courts.
Lavie, together with Yesh Atid MKs Yael German and Karin Elharar, called on female ministers and MKs, particularly Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, to oppose the two transfers of authority in the Knesset.
“Do not return us to the era of darkness, prevent the transfer of authorities to a ministry that lacks the ability for real oversight and which operates based on a sectoral agenda and not out of responsibility for all the citizens of Israel,” the MKs said, referring to the Shas-controlled Religious Services Ministry.