The Shas leadership has been strongly criticized for seeking to delay the appointments process of rabbinical judges to both the Supreme Rabbinical Court and the regional rabbinical courts, allegedly in order to stall until the composition of the appointments committee swings back in its favor.
Committee member Dr.
Rachel Levmore alleged that Shas has dragged its feet on appointing judges due to political considerations, and is interfering in the choices of religious-Zionist representatives on the committee which has not been accepted practice in the past.
The retirement of two haredi judges from the Supreme Rabbinical Court over the last six months, who had seats on the committee, has left the national religious representatives on the committee with a plurality of the votes, and the haredi members in the minority.
There are seven empty seats on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, which hears appeals from the 12 regional rabbinical courts around the country, with only two permanent judges, the two chief rabbis, serving on it.
The court has been kept operational by temporary appointments, but in January, the High Court of Justice ruled, in response to foot-dragging by the haredi representatives, that if new appointments were not made by April 10, the tenure of the temporary appointments would expire 30 days later, thereby shuttering the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
The committee has not however convened by the chairman, Minister Yuval Steinitz, and therefore the appointments have not been made.
In order to delay the shutdown of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, secretary of the committee and temporary director of the Rabbinical Courts Administration, Rabbi Shimon Yaakobi, wrote to the High Court of Justice saying that several attempts to convene the committee had failed, and requested an extension until May 5 to make the appointments.
Steinitz has now formally set two dates to convene the committee, May 2 and May 16, although an agenda has not yet been issued. While dates for convening the committee were proposed in March and April, Steinitz never issued formal notices for those meetings.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef in particular is opposed to convening the committee under the current circumstances since the four national-religious representatives on the nine-member panel wish to appoint in particular three rabbinical judges to the regional courts at the same meeting who are vociferously opposed by Yosef and Shas.
These three judges, who were the leading liberal national-religious candidates, were voted down by the committee when it met in September last year to make appointments to the regional courts largely due to Shas’ opposition to them.
One of them, Rabbi Nir Vargon, wrote a brief to a Knesset committee in 2014 saying that someone convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude should be banned from serving as a minister or deputy minister for 14 years (instead of seven), which would have excluded Deri from the current government.
The more liberally inclined members of the committee now see an opportunity to elect these rabbinical judges to the regional courts now that the committee is weighted in their favor.
Yosef is anxious to avoid appointments to the regional courts until the composition of the committee swings back in favor of the haredi representatives, which will happen once new rabbinical judges are appointed to the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Additionally, one of the four liberal committee member, rabbinical courts advocate Levmore, will step down in the summer when her term ends.
Whereas it used to be the justice minister who nominated the rabbinical court advocate to the committee, in 2015 the new government transferred this authority to the religious services minister, currently MK David Azoulay of Shas.
Yosef, Yaakobi and Steinitz are all aware of the desperate need for added manpower on the regional courts and the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
According to well-placed sources, Yaakobi has frequently requested that committee members remove their objections to temporary appointments to the regional courts proposed by Yosef. Steinitz himself wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 11 to request that more seats be created on the rabbinical courts to deal with the much-increased caseload of recent years.
Yosef has however objected to appointing judges to the regional courts at the same meeting for appointing judges to the Supreme Rabbinical Court, despite the imminent shut-down of the higher court which the High Court of Justice has threatened if appointments are not made by May 5.
“There is just one representative of Shas on the appointments committee out of nine members in total, yet Shas is attempting to prevent the appointment of the full complement of rabbinic judges to the regional courts, as well as taking upon itself veto power over the candidates preferred by the religious-Zionist sector for the rabbinical courts in general,” Levmore said on Thursday.
“The long-standing method of appointing rabbinical judges through various machinations is the height of political cynicism, and produces bad results for the Jewish people both in Israel and in the Diaspora.”