Bill promoting women on rabbinical judges c'tee advances

Legislation setting minimum quota for women on rabbinical judge appointment panel passes first reading in Knesset.

June 5, 2013 01:31
2 minute read.
Rabbinical Court  in Jerusalem.

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 morning.

The bill would also expand the committee from 10 to 11 members, with the extra panelist being a qualified female rabbinical court advocate.

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 members.

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 MK said.

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 welcome.

Michaeli herself criticized her Knesset colleagues for failing to back her, saying that the secular public was left without representation on the committee.

“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.

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