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(photo credit: Knesset website)
The debate over proposed changes to Israeli divorce laws has made its way to the Knesset, where interested parties are meeting Tuesday to hash out a compromise in a dialogue that could stretch into the next legislative session.
Supported by a host of women's rights groups, one plan seeks to eliminate the so-called "race to file," where the first partner in a couple who files for divorce determines which jurisdiction will handle related issues such as alimony, child support and inheritance.
Jewish rabbinical courts maintain exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce cases, however the related issues can be decided in either civil or rabbinical court.
"As it happens there's this race where the woman would want to file this alimony action in the civil court and the husband would like to file it in the rabbinical court because rabbinical court tends to favor the husband, whereas the civil court tends to be more generous for the woman," said Michael Karayanni, a law professor at Hebrew University Faculty of Law.
A group of traditional and liberal Orthodox rabbis, women's groups, lawyers and other parties are meeting Tuesday at the Knesset to voice their opinions on the matter.
"In this process we will build together," said MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who is hosting the discussion. "It is much easier to be open, to change the atmosphere by giving support to both sides."
Schneller, who is modern Orthodox, said he wants to serve as a bridge between the progressive and conservative wings of Israeli society in hopes of promoting reconciliation. Schneller was instrumental in 2007 in lobbying for a law adopted by the Knesset that allows religious and secular courts to automatically and equally divide the assets of couples whose divorce proceedings extend beyond nine months.
"We have a lot of tools, we need to choose what is the best," Schneller said. "What is most important to me is the process and making sure that all perspectives are heard."
The International Coalition for Aguna Rights, a coalition of nearly 30 women's groups, is pushing for reforms to divorce policies, saying both parties in a divorce must consent to have the matters supplementary to a divorce brought before a rabbinical court.
Marc Luria, ICAR's volunteer lobbyist in the Knesset and government, said their battle was an uphill one.
"Israel has something which is the status quo," Luria said. "They've basically frozen things in place." Luria said some 80 percent of current supplementary divorce cases in Israel land up in civil court and the remaining 20% involve predominantly Orthodox couples.
"It'll be a big fight. Ultra-Orthodox fight anything that in any way hurts authority of religious courts," said Luria, who pointed out that most of the women pushing for the reforms are religious themselves and see it rather as a matter of how much time should elapse between the filing date and the actual continuation of the case in either civil or rabbinical court.