Raya Dinenberg (left) holds her Get, along side her Rabbincial Court Advocate Devorah Brisk outside the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court.
(photo credit: YAD L'ISHA)
For the first time in almost five years, new judges were appointed on Friday morning to the 12 regional rabbinical courts, a step that is hoped will alleviate the heavy backlog of cases.
Twenty-two judges were finally appointed by the 11-member selection committee after a marathon 16-hour session, seven from the Sephardi haredi sector, seven from the Ashkenazi haredi sector and eight from the national- religious sector.
The haredi representatives, however, vetoed three national- religious candidates whom the liberal members of the committee had at the outset been insistent upon appointing, owing to the candidates’ more progressive opinions within Jewish law, their association with the Tzohar rabbinical organization, and other aspects of their résumés that did not endear them to the haredi political leadership.
There were 24 positions available on the courts, and although Shas had only wanted to appoint a total of 15, it was ultimately agreed to appoint 22.
Committee member Dr. Rachel Levmore criticized the panel chairman, Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), for succumbing to the haredi pressure to veto these candidates The highly politicized process had generated concerns within women’s rights organizations that judges unsympathetic to the plight of women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce would be appointed, and that liberal-minded candidates would be rejected.
The committee did, however, appoint eight rabbinical judges who were strongly backed by the bloc of four women on the committee, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union), female rabbinical court advocate Dr. Rachel Levmore and attorney Efrat Rosenblatt from the Israel Bar Association.
The 22 rabbinical judges appointed represent almost a quarter of the 91 judicial seats on the regional courts.
Although there are seven empty seats on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, no appointments were made to that court which is suffering from an even heavier backlog of cases than the regional courts.
Levmore said the appointments were both good and bad, praising the selection of 12 out of the 22, and in particular the appointment of three candidates with academic degrees, one of them a haredi candidate and another who has a PhD.
“Out of the 22 rabbinical judges that were appointed, I personally found that 12 were excellent including appointees from all three sectors,” Levmore told The Jerusalem Post
“I was deeply disappointed that Minister Steinitz did not answer the need of the Jewish people, and failed to prevent Shas and United Torah Judaism from levying their veto against the three leading candidates, who were superb but were prevented from being elected.”
Swid said the appointment of “eight moderate rabbinical judges” from the national-religious sector was “great news” for the public.
“They will lead an approach of equality between men and women, will be lenient toward ‘chained women’ and will create a bridge between the rabbinical courts and the secular public which comes to their gates,” the MK said.
Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, the director of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, welcomed the outcome of the appointments process despite the fact that the three most desired liberal candidates had not be selected.
She described the new rabbinical judges as well qualified, especially those with academic backgrounds, and ascribed this success to the presence on the committee for the first time of four women who were able to advance the rights of women through the appointments process.
Halperin-Kaddari said it was hard to evaluate the approach in Jewish law that would be taken by most of the new haredi rabbinical judges since, in the main, they had little record of written opinions or published work on the critical issue of recalcitrant husbands.