Women's NGOs demand say in religious courts

Notice to High Court filed by Emunah, demands that vote for new judges be delayed until women are on appointment panel.

June 2, 2013 01:32
2 minute read.
Haredi men dance on Simhat Torah

Haredi men dance on Simhat Torah 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)


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Campaigners for legislation designed to reserve four seats for women on the committee for appointing rabbinical judges have stepped up their efforts in the past few days with a legal notice to the High Court of Justice demanding the election of the new committee be delayed until the legislation is passed.

Women’s rights activists see the committee as a crucial forum to advance 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.

For the past 18 months until the opening of the current Knesset there have been no women on the committee. At least one woman is guaranteed to be on the new committee since a spot is reserved for the justice minister, Tzipi Livni.

A High Court petition submitted by the Emunah religious- Zionist women’s rights group at the end of 2011 arguing that the lack of female representation on the committee violates gender-equality laws was accepted by the court, and has led to a freeze in rabbinical judge appointments ever since.

Legislation has since been proposed whereby an additional spot would be added to the committee and four positions on the panel would be reserved for women, the logic being that since the two serving chief rabbis and two rabbinical judges from the Supreme Rabbinical Court, all men, are guaranteed places on the committee, the same number of places should be reserved for women.

A legal notice to the High Court filed by Emunah on Tuesday demands that the vote for new committee members, scheduled for Monday, be delayed long enough for the passage of the legislation reserving four committee places for women.

The petition was filed because women’s rights groups fear that behind the scenes political bargaining will mean that not only will few women end up on the panel but that conservative-haredi figures will be elected as well, setting back efforts to have moderate rabbinical judges appointed.

The committee currently comprises 10 members including the two sitting chief rabbis; two Supreme Rabbinical Court judges; the justice minister; a minister appointed by the prime minister; two members elected from the Israel Bar Association; and two MKs. Customarily, one MK is nominated by the coalition and one by the opposition.

The candidates for the two MK positions are thought to be Shuli Muallem of Bayit Yehudi, Elazar Stern of Hatnua, Merav Michaeli of Labor, Uri Maklev of United Torah Judaism, Eli Yishai of Shas and Moshe Feiglin of the Likud.

Muallem and Michaeli would be welcomed by the women’s groups; Maklev and Yishai would not.

Emunah, the International Coalition of Agunah Rights, the Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women’s Status and other groups suspect that a political deal is being worked out among the opposition parties in which a prominent Labor MK will be guaranteed cross-party support, including from the two haredi parties, for a place on the committee for appointment of High Court judges, also due to be elected, in return for the opposition’s support for a haredi candidate for the committee for appointing rabbinical court judges.

However, well placed political sources indicated to The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night that Labor would in the end be supporting Michaeli’s candidacy.

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