(photo credit: INIMAGE)
Following a shutdown of the Rabbinical High Court in Jerusalem by the chief rabbis and a petition to the High Court of Justice by a women’s rights NGO, three rabbinical judges were given temporary appointments on Monday to help deal with the backlog of 2,900 cases.
The three new appointments, rabbis Yaakov Zamir, Eliezer Igra and Ahron Katz, were recommended by Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef two weeks ago and were approved by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Monday for a period of six months.
She said he hoped that they would help alleviate the crisis facing the rabbinical courts, especially the high court, of late.
The appointments process to the Rabbinical High Court and the regional rabbinical courts has been frozen for years owing to legal challenges to the process itself as well as political wrangling over the candidates.
Last week, in response to an appeal hearing request from the Mavoi Satum women’s rights group for a woman it is representing, the Rabbinical High Court informed the organization that it was not scheduling hearings due to a lack of judges.
The organization filed a petition to the High Court of Justice last week to demand that the rabbinical court hear the case, or, failing that, that the High Court of Justice itself hear the case.
Mavoi Satum director Batya Kahana-Dror said that she believes the petition expedited the approval of the temporary appointments and welcomed the development.
She welcomed the appointments, especially that of Igra, from the conservative wing of the national-religious community and currently serving as the head rabbinical judge in Beersheba; and that of Katz, from the haredi community and currently serving as a rabbinical judge in Ashkelon.
Igra has already served as a temporary appointment to the Rabbinical High Court back in 2012, when a similar lack of judges plagued the court.
Kahana-Dror nevertheless described the step as “a drop in the ocean which solves neither the deeper problem nor the crisis currently experienced due to the severe lack of judges,” adding that the appointments process needs to be separated from politics.
“We need to privatize the rabbinical courts, establish civil marriage for those who want it, and free Israeli citizens from the yoke of the religious establishment,” she declared.
Due to the freeze in appointments, there are only two fully functioning judges on the Rabbinical High Court at the moment – the two chief rabbis, Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau – along with two judges in poor health, one who cannot work at all and one who is only occasionally available to work.
The court, which has sole jurisdiction over Jewish marriage and divorce in Israel and is a crucial forum for women seeking redress for being denied a divorce, has ground to a halt due to this lack of judges.
The rabbinical courts have great influence over marriage in Israel, they rule on the validity of marriage registration applications regarding converts, questions of Jewish status and other aspects of Jewish law related to marriage, as well as divorce procedures and the frequently employed appeals process.
There are currently five empty seats on the Rabbinical High Court, while two of the serving judges are set to retire later this year, and another 21 empty seats on the 12 regional rabbinical courts.
Judges on the Rabbinical High Court are appointed from the regional courts, so if seven judges are appointed at some stage, that will mean that another seven seats on the regional courts will need to be filled.