(photo credit: Channel 10)
The appointment of a new justice minister is expected to expedite the voting into office of 13 new rabbinic judges.
For over three years no new rabbinic judges have been elected by the Council for Rabbinic Judge Appointments due to political infighting that paralyzed the committee.
Sephardi and Ashkenazi haredim failed to reach a compromise between them over the number of appointments each was entitled to make.
Also, women's rights lobbyists, who favor modern Orthodox candidates, put pressure on previous Justice Ministers Haim Ramon and Tzipi Livni to appoint judges who they saw as more sensitive to the plight of women.
Both Ramon and Livni used their power to convene or delay the meeting of the council to put pressure on the vying sides to reach a compromise. It is still unclear whether the incoming Justice Minister, Daniel Friedmann, who has the power to convene or dismiss the council, will do the same.
On March 29, the council is slated to convene to choose the new judges.
By a 5 to 4 majority, haredi interests control the council. The haredi bloc is made up of Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai, MK Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas) and two rabbinic judges on the High Rabbinic Court, Rabbi Chagai Izrer and Rabbi Shlomo Ben-Shimon.
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger, who is also a member of the council, has been disqualified from sitting until criminal charges brought against Metzger are cleared up.
All but Izrer, who is a direct appointment of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, are Sephardi haredim close to Shas.
Modern Orthodox religious interests are represented by the new justice minister, Daniel Friedmann (assuming he does not support the haredim), Attorneys Sharon Shenhav and Eli Shmuelian, who represent the Israeli Bar Association, and MK Nissim Smoliansky (National Religious Party).
Shenhav, a modern Orthodox feminist, said that she hoped the appointment of a professional justice minister who is not politically aligned would weaken haredi control over the appointment of rabbinic judges.
"I want the most qualified person to be appointed," said Shenhav. "Not the one with the best political connections."
Shenhav said she was pushing for the appointment of religious judges who also had some secular education.
Haredi sources said that they were pushing for the appointment of the most erudite judges who had the backing of the haredi communities' leading spiritual leaders.