Women's groups, progressive rabbis bid to overturn rabbinic judge appointments

Argued that appointments of the judges, who will deal almost exclusively with divorce law, were tainted with nepotism, political pressures and procedural flaws.

By MATTHEW WAGNER
October 18, 2007 20:50
2 minute read.
Women's groups, progressive rabbis bid to overturn rabbinic judge appointments

naamat protest 298.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Secular women's rights groups Thursday joined forces with progressive Orthodox rabbis and religious women's organizations to petition the High Court to overturn the appointment of 19 new rabbinic judges last month. Kolech, rabbis of the religious kibbutz yeshiva on Ma'aleh Gilboa, the Na'amat women's organization, The Women's Lobby, Ne'emanei Torah Ve'avoda, Mavoi Satum, and other groups argued in their petition that the appointments of the judges, who will deal almost exclusively with divorce law, were tainted with nepotism, political pressures and procedural flaws. Attorney Batia Kahana-Dror, who prepared the 60-page petition, said that haredi rabbinic leadership manipulated the appointment procedure. "Rabbi [Yosef Shalom] Elyashiv and his cronies exploited their influence to make sure only judges willing to maintain the status quo would be chosen," said Kahana-Dror. The petitioners claim that if not for nepotism and inordinate haredi influence, new, more progressive rabbinic judges would have been chosen. Instead, the haredi rabbinic leadership managed to maintain control of the voting process. As a result, argue the petitioners, rabbinic judges were voted in who are less willing to avail themselves of controversial but effective legal means to ease the plight of agunot - women who cannot remarry because their intransigent husband refuses to cooperate in the divorce process or who makes his cooperation contingent on monetary or child custody concessions. However, Dr. Sharon Shinhav, a member of the rabbinic judge appointment commission and a prominent women's rights activist, defended the appointment procedure. "All 200 candidates were interviewed and graded, albeit according to subjective criteria. I believe that procedure-wise everything was done properly. That isn't to say that the best were chosen. In my opinion there were better candidates who did not make it. Rabbis have extensive secular law expertise in addition to being versed in Jewish law. But the reality is that most members of the commission do not vote based on their independent opinions and impressions. Rather they are messengers of haredi rabbis." Shenhav admitted that it was legitimate for commission members to take advice from rabbinic authorities regarding how to vote. In contrast, petitioners claim that the appointment process did not do enough to eradicate nepotism. They point out in their petition that at least seven of the 19 appointees have close family and professional ties with leading rabbis, judges and politicians. They also claim that the appointment process was affected by a coalition agreement between Shas and Kadima. This is not the first time the High Court has been asked to intervene in rabbinic judge appointments. The appointment of 15 rabbinic judges in March was annulled in the wake of a petition to the High Court and after Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz identified procedural flaws.

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