Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem 150.
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
A bill that would reserve four places for women on the committee that appoints
rabbinical judges passed its first reading in the Knesset Tuesday
The bill would also expand the committee from 10 to 11 members,
with the extra panelist being a qualified female rabbinical court
Women’s rights activists see the committee as a crucial forum
for advancing women’s divorce rights, since they believe that the appointment of
more moderate rabbinical judges will lead to greater protection for women from
extortion in divorce proceedings.
There are currently several thousand
open cases in Israel involving women whose husbands refuse to grant them a writ
of divorce. Such refusals, which are usually aimed at gaining better terms in a
divorce settlement, are difficult to solve within the framework of Jewish law,
especially as it is interpreted at present.
For the past 18 months, there
have been no women at all on the appointment committee, although that changed
Monday night when Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Muallem joined Justice Minister Tzipi
Livni on the panel after a vote in the Knesset to determine the committee’s
Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie, who introduced the bill, welcomed the
addition of Muallem, noting that it was the first time a female MK had ever been
elected to the committee.
However, Lavie said the new composition of the
committee “should not confuse us” into thinking that the problem was solved, and
said that her bill, which was also Muallem’s initiative, should be passed as
soon as possible.
“Otherwise, in a short amount of time, we’ll find
ourselves again without female representation on the committee,” the Yesh Atid
At the end of 2011, women’s rights group Emunah submitted a High
Court petition arguing that the lack of female representation on the committee
violated gender equality laws.
The court accepted the petition, leading
to a freeze in rabbinical judge appointments ever since.
Also elected to
the committee on Monday was Shas MK Eli Yishai, beating out Labor MK Merav
Michaeli – a development that women’s rights groups did not
Michaeli herself criticized her Knesset colleagues for failing
to back her, saying that the secular public was left without representation on
“Female and male members of Knesset preferred to preserve
the stale tradition of a paralyzed committee, which does not bring good news for
the Jewish people but instead continues to serve a handful of select people,”
Michaeli said after the vote.
If Lavie’s bill passes into law, the part
that mandates adding a female rabbinical court advocate will take effect for the
committee that was just appointed, but the part that reserves four slots for
women will not go into effect until the next committee’s election. This means
there will be a total of three women on the current panel.
The bill is
expected to pass either this week or next week.