Shas chairman and Economy Minister Arye Deri last week threatened to bring down the government if the three leading liberal candidates for election to the rabbinical courts were appointed as rabbinical judges, sources said Thursday.
Several well placed sources, including a senior political source, confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that on the night before the vote, Deri exerted heavy pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, saying that he was ready to topple the coalition if these three candidates were elected.
Another source close to the committee said that Steinitz, the committee chairman, was “in the pocket of the haredim.”
A spokesperson for Deri denied that such pressure had been exerted, but said that in “narrow coalitions” concessions must be made by all sides.
The Committee for Appointing Rabbinical Judges convened last Thursday and appointed 22 rabbinical judges to the regional courts, the first appointments in close to five years.
The haredi members of the Committee for Appointing Rabbinical Judges do not constitute a majority at present, and Deri, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and others were concerned that the liberal candidates – Rabbis David Bass, Benayhu Bruner and Nir Vargon – could possibly get elected.
The liberal candidates are associated with the national religious Tzohar association, an organization particularly disdained by Shas. Furthermore, Vargon in 2014 advised a Knesset committee that someone convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude should be banned from serving as a minister or deputy minister for 14 years, which would have excluded Deri from the current government.
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Concerned that Steinitz would vote in favor of one of these figures, Deri warned both the prime minister and Steinitz of the political consequences of allowing them to be elected.
“Deri exerted massive pressure on Steinitz and Bibi,” to prevent these appointments, a senior political source said.
None of the three rabbis in question was elected, although it is understood that David Bass was just one vote away from being appointed.
Of the 11 members of the committee for Appointing Rabbinical Judges, the two chief rabbis, the two rabbinical judges from the Supreme Rabbinical Court and the United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler constitute a five-member haredi voting bloc.
There are four women on the panel, who constitute its liberal bloc. The remaining two members, Steinitz and attorney Asher Axelrod from the Israel Bar Association, had the deciding votes.
Sources close to Steinitz told the Post that there were haredi efforts to torpedo entirely the appointments process. The source insisted that the outcome of the appointments was positive for the liberal bloc.
The source noted that eight out of the 22 appointees were from the national-religious bloc, and two, Rabbis David Katz and Levi Sinai, have academic backgrounds and are also associated with Tzohar.
“Progressive jurists who understand the importance of helping ‘chained women’ bound to their marriage were elected,” they said.
A separate source close to the committee said they were concerned that the same pressure exercised in last Thursday’s vote for rabbinical court appointments would again be exerted regarding appointments to the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
However, it appears there will be a severe deadlock on appointments to the Supreme Court if compromises cannot be reached.
Due to Rabbi Tzion Boaron’s retirement yesterday, there is just one rabbinical judge serving on the Supreme Court alongside the two chief rabbis. Rabbi Tzion Elgrabli, the remaining rabbinical judge, is due to retire in January.
The appointments committee includes two rabbinical judges from the Supreme Rabbinical Court. Elgrabli and Boaron, filling this role, are both haredi. They therefore significantly increased the strength of the haredi political parties, Shas and UTJ, on the committee.
As by January both Elgrabli and Boaron will no longer be members of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, the committee will be down to just nine members. In such a situation, a candidate for appointment to the Supreme Rabbinical Court will need seven votes in order to be elected, though both the haredi and liberal blocs of the committee will have a veto over the candidates of either side.
Haaretz reported on Thursday that Chief Rabbi Yosef intends to make do with temporary appointments to the Supreme Rabbinical Court, which he is authorized to do, provided the Religious Services Minister, Shas MK David Azoulai, approves.
According to information received by the Post, Yosef approved three new temporary appointments to the Supreme Rabbinical Court yesterday.
The court has a massive backlog of cases, because no new judges have been appointed to it in recent years.
Yosef is reportedly fiercely opposed to the appointment of Rabbi Uriel Lavi, a candidate of the liberal bloc of the appointments committee, since he issued a controversial ruling in 2014, freeing a woman from her marriage to her husband who was in a what was believed to be a permanent coma.
It is likely that for this reason Yosef is loathe to convene the committee at this stage. However, the veto of the liberal bloc on the committee will not be overcome during the term of the current government, so it seems unlikely that at present any new appointments will be made to the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Steinitz is in favor of appointing Lavi, and according to sources, does want to convene the committee for appointments to the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
A spokesman for Yosef declined to comment.
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