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Rabbinical court dayanim (judges) are not required to study law, even though they are required to rule in accordance with secular law in many of the cases that come before them, a family law attorney charged this week in a petition to the High Court of Justice.
The petitioner, attorney Dayana Har-Even, said that even though the rabbinical courts are obliged to settle property disputes between divorcing couples in accordance with the same law as secular family courts, the "outcome of religious judicial decisions is often substantially different from the outcome in secular courts." This, Har-Even said, was because dayanim are unfamiliar with secular law.
"A dayan serving in a rabbinical court should have, among the various qualifications he needs to be a rabbinical court judge, a law degree from an accredited academic institution and experience in articling or training in family law."
Har-Even added that the dayanim's frequent lack of legal training meant that people appearing before secular and rabbinical courts do not receive the same treatment.
Under the law, secular family courts and rabbinical courts are equally empowered to rule on property disputes between couples. However, in response to a petition filed in 1992, the High Court of Justice ruled that the rabbinical courts must apply secular, rather than halachic (religious) law, to property issues in divorce settlements.
Now, Har-Even continued, there is talk of expanding the legal prerogatives of the religious courts to enable them to rule on cases that, until now, were out of their jurisdiction. One bill currently under discussion would empower rabbinical courts to attempt to resolve disputes between couples before the case officially comes before the court.
These changes will make it only more incumbent upon the dayanim to be well-versed in civil law, said Har-Even. "Training in the law," she wrote, "will make it possible for the dayanim, in effect, to understand the rules of the game and the complicated legal texts, not only in terms of what the law itself says, but also how it has developed and changed through interpretation and judicial decision."