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(photo credit: Channel 2)
Rabbinic judges' chronic tardiness and unlawfully short working hours will no longer be tolerated, Justice Minister Haim Ramon warned in a letter sent Sunday to all 85 serving rabbinic judges.
Ramon also issued an ultimatum to 15 judges who do not live in the city in which they serve as judges. Ramon warned that by the end of the Jewish year (September 14) these rabbinic judges must move to their city of work. If they fail to comply, they will be fired.
Rabbinic courts deal almost exclusively with divorce cases, which are governed by Jewish law.
Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, administrative head of the rabbinic court system, said that the vast majority of rabbinic judges were punctual and hard-working. Nevertheless, a small minority who are guilty of tardiness and shortened work days give all judges a bad name.
However, Attorney Bat-Sheva Sherman, head of Yad Le'Isha, a women's advocacy group, disagreed with Ben-Dahan.
"Unfortunately, the phenomenon of coming late and leaving early is widespread," said Sherman. "And even when they do come, the judges are unprofessional and often come unprepared. The decisions they write reveal a shallowness of thought."
Though Sherman's claims were backed up by other attorneys familiar with the workings of the rabbinic courts, Ben-Dahan rejected them outright.
"I don't think one can generalize about these things. There are many civil judges who write short decisions that are devoid of serious thought."
Ben-Dahan recommended combating rabbinic judges' tardiness by instituting the use of magnetic cards that take roll call. He said the cards would be adopted by the rabbinic judges on condition civil judges used them as well.
Commenting on Ramon's directive to the judges to move to the city in which they serve, Ben-Dahan said he wanted judges who were rested and had the wherewithal to sit patiently and hear both sides.
"I know judges that travel from Jerusalem to Haifa," said Ben-Dahan. "How can a judge who has traveled so far be expected to function at his best?"
Ben-Dahan said that judges living in the city in which they served also made them more available to the litigators outside the court.
Sources close to the rabbinic courts said that Ben-Dahan was spearheading the effort to improve the judges' professionalism.
He has already enlisted Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who sent a similar letter to Ramon several months ago.
In parallel, Ben-Dahan is pushing to get more funding for para-rabbinic services such as legal advisors and secretaries.
A cabinet decision dating back to October 1998, which has yet to be implemented, called for providing rabbinic divorce courts with a team made up of social workers, mediators, psychologists and psychiatrists to aid the rabbinic judges in dealing with the family issues arising from the divorce process.
Civil family courts have already been provided with these teams.