Metzger calls for strike over appointments crisis

UTJ and Shas veto bill that would reserve spots on rabbinical court appointment committee for women.

By
February 1, 2012 02:37
3 minute read.
Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

 
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Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger on Monday night called for dayanim, or rabbinical judges, to shut down the Supreme Rabbinical Court for Appeal in protest over the ongoing suspension of the appointments committee for rabbinical judges.

The committee was suspended by the High Court in November following a petition by the Emunah women’s rights groups protesting the complete absence of women on it for the first time in 12 years. Emunah argued that the lack of female representation on the committee violates gender equality laws.

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Speaking at a conference of dayanim at Kibbutz Lavi, Metzger blamed women’s rights groups for the current impasse, which is preventing appointments from being made, in particular to the supreme rabbinical court for appeals, the Beit Din Hagadol.

“Hundreds of cases are seen by the supreme rabbinical court, the dayanim are collapsing under the weight of the burden and those seeking the court’s judgements suffer,” Metzger said Monday night. “Are they responsible for the fact that the Bar Association did not choose a female delegate for the committee?” Israel Hayom reported.

In November, the Israel Bar Association – which elects two delegates to the dayanim appointments committee – held its elections for the posts and selected two men, despite a promise by the head of the largest political faction within the Bar that he would back a female candidate.

“This time [the Bar Association] elected two men, that’s their decision, it’s not connected to us at all, but yet they chose to attack us... and have had the [appointments] process stopped.” Metzger said.

Emunah chairwoman Liora Minke told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that she “identified” with the chief rabbi’s sentiment but that he was assigning the blame to the wrong address.

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“Metzger’s anger is misdirected, it should be turned towards those political parties who are causing the problem,” she said. “The state needs to find an answer to this issue so it must be demanded of them.”

On Monday, United Torah Judaism and Shas vetoed coalition approval for a bill that would reserve two places on the committee for women, claiming that it was infringement of the status quo of affairs of religion and state for which they are entitled to veto coalition support, according to the coalition agreement.

A spokesman for Metzger told the Post on Tuesday that he was not opposed to such a bill.

The rabbinical courts system has exclusive jurisdiction over all matters of marriage and divorce. Women’s rights groups are lobbying for women to be appointed to the selection committee because of the influence dayanim have over cases in which a man refuses to give a bill of divorce to his wife, preventing her from re-marrying.

The supreme rabbinical court hears appeals of decisions made by the 12 regional religious courts.

There are currently only two dayanim remaining on the Beit Din Hagadol, who are joined by the two chief rabbis who also serve on the court. The total number of positions is not strictly defined and has fluctuated between five and nine rabbinical judges in recent years.

Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubenstein proposed in January that a seat be added to the 10-member committee for the current term, which would be reserved for a woman. The state is expected to respond to the proposal this month.

Minke also pointed out that there have been no appointments to the rabbinical supreme court for several years before Emunah’s High Court petition.

Disagreements between ultra-Orthodox committee members and more religiously moderate members over candidates, specifically MK Otniel Schneller and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, have stalled the appointments process.

The committee comprises Metzger and his Sephardic counterpart Shlomo Amar, two dayanim from the supreme rabbinical court, two ministers – one of whom must be the minister of justice – two MKs and two delegates from the Israel Bar Association.

A simple majority is required to appoint a dayan but unanimity is preferred, and as chairman of the committee, Neeman has also prevented the committee from convening and voting.

The second minister on the committee is currently Shas leader Eli Yishai, the second MK is Moshe Gafni of UTJ and the two recently elected delegates from the Bar Association are Mordechai Eisenberg, who is haredi, and Asher Axelrod, who is secular.

Rabbi Shlomo Daichovsky, the director of the rabbinical courts system, told the Post that if the Knesset wanted to reserve places for women on the committee then it should pass legislation to that effect, but failure to pass such a law should not prevent the appointments committee from functioning.

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