State Attorney: Chief rabbinate can’t block candidate from Supreme Rabbinical Court

Heavy political pressure from several sources has been brought to bear in recent months over the rabbinical judges appointments process.

March 29, 2016 05:15
3 minute read.
Arye Deri



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A petition to the High Court of Justice has paved the way for the candidacy of a highly regarded rabbinical judge from the national-religious sector to the Supreme Rabbinical Court, despite opposition he faces from the religious establishment.

Political pressure from several sources has increased in recent months surrounding the rabbinical judges appointments process, with senior national politicians trying to influence which candidates are elected.

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In September, Shas leader and Interior Minister Arye Deri threatened to topple the government if three candidates from the national- religious sector were elected to the regional rabbinical courts.

Last week, attorney Aviad Hacohen, the Dean of Science and Law Academic Center, filed a petition to the High Court requesting that the Council of the Chief Rabbinate explain why it has not authorized four rabbinical judges to serve on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, despite the fact that they meet all criteria.

One of the rabbinical judges, Rabbi Yair Ben-Menachem, is seen as a rising star in the field of rabbinical scholarship and halachic jurisprudence, and is a favored candidate of several members of the appointments committee for rabbinical judges.

Rabbinical judges from the regional courts have in the past received automatic qualification to serve on the Supreme Rabbinical Court after having served on the regional courts for three years.

Ben-Menachem, who has served for more than three years, submitted a request for his qualification to serve on the Supreme Court to be authorized half a year ago, but the Council of the Chief Rabbinate has failed to comply.

However, in the state’s reply to the petition on Sunday, the State Attorney’s Office wrote that, based on the precedent of a similar case 30 years ago, the fact that the Chief Rabbinate has not authorized Ben-Menachem’s qualification will not prevent him from being appointed to the Supreme Rabbinical Court.

“It should be clarified that the fact that the respondent [the Chief Rabbinate] has yet to decide on the case of Rabbi Ben-Menachem does not remove his qualification to serve as a rabbinical judge on the Supreme Rabbinical Court,” the response read.

Regardless of the state’s response, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate was supposed to vote on approving Ben-Menachem’s credentials, but Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef was not present at the meeting and a vote could therefore not be taken.

Sources on the appointments committee claim that Yosef is opposed to Ben-Menachem’s candidacy and intends to prevent his election. Yosef’s recent argument with his counterpart, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, has compromised his ability to block the nomination, due to the current composition of the appointments committee.

The appointments committee for rabbinical judges now faces a tight deadline to make appointments to the court, which no longer has any full-time justices serving on it.

The only two rabbis serving on the court are Yosef and Lau, by dint of their status as chief rabbis.

Several temporary appointments to the court made by Yosef have kept the court operational.

In January, the High Court of Justice ruled that permanent appointments must be made by April 10. The court ruled that if the appointments are not made, the tenure of the temporary appointments would expire 30 days later, thereby shuttering the Supreme Rabbinical Court.

After much stalling by the chairman of the appointments committee, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, the committee will now convene on April 15, after the High Court’s deadline, to make the appointments.

There are seven empty seats on the court to be filled.

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