Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch headed off complaints to the police and the Judges' Ombudswoman of a conflict of interest on the part of retired Justice Aharon Barak by clarifying that he would not rule on a High Court petition filed by the Movement for Progressive Judaism in Israel.
The complaints against Barak and the Progressive Movement were filed by Attorney Mordechai Eisenberg, head of the Movement for Honesty in Government. Eisenberg charged that Barak received an honorary doctorate from the movement's rabbinical seminary in Israel, Hebrew Union College, while presiding over the hearings on its petition against the Social Affairs Ministry for giving non-Jewish babies out for adoption to Orthodox families only.
The petition was submitted in 2003. In a written decision published Tuesday, Beinisch announced that last year, the panel of seven justices headed by Barak which was hearing the petition had decided to wait until the court ruled on 12 newer petitions, filed by the Progressive Movement and its Religious Action Center beginning in November 2005.
These petitions called on the court to order the state to recognize non-Orthodox conversions conducted in Israel.
The 12 petitions are being heard by an expanded panel of nine justices. Barak, who retired on September 16, is not a member of the panel. The court held a hearing on the 12 petitions earlier this month and decided to give the sides two months to prepare new briefs regarding questions it raised. That means that the court will not be able to rule on the petition any earlier than January 12.
According to the regulations, every retiring judge has three months after his retirement to complete rulings he was working on at the time of his retirement. Thus, Barak has until December 16 to finish off what whatever cases he can. However, since the ruling on the petition against the Social Affairs Ministry cannot be handed down before the one on the 12 petitions - that is, January 12 - Barak will not be able to write it.
Beinisch on Wednesday announced that his place on the panel would be filled by Justice Miriam Na'or. But according to Eisenberg, the fact that in practice Barak cannot hand down the decision on the petition against the ministry does not undermine his complaint.
Barak, who received the honorary doctorate on November 10, agreed to accept it before he knew that he would not be able to hand down the ruling on the petition against the ministry, charged Eisenberg.