Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy SODAVIDEO/The Tzipi Livni Party)
Congratulations to the Knesset, and especially to new MKs from Yesh Atid and
Bayit Yehudi, for passing legislation which requires that at least four women be
members of the Commission to Appoint Dayanim.
According to this law, the
Knesset, the Israel Bar Association and the government must elect or appoint at
least one woman to the commission.
In addition, an 11th member has been
added to the former 10-member commission, reserved for a female rabbinic pleader
This legislation has been long overdue, but was
bitterly opposed by the haredi political parties. However, the new winds blowing
in the government as a result of the recent elections have enabled the voices of
women to be heard in the selection of those rabbis who have the exclusive power
to decide divorce cases in Israel.
Women’s organizations have been
lobbying for equality of representation of women on the government body that
chooses dayanim (rabbinic court judges) for many years. ICAR, a coalition of 27
organizations committed to freeing agunot (“chained” women, referring to women
whose husbands refuse to give them a bill of divorce and who are thus not free
to remarry), has drafted this kind of legislation and lobbied for its passage
The new Knesset, which has the largest number of female
MKs in history, has begun to flex its muscles.
Orthodox women MKs like
Dr. Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi) have led the
efforts and succeeded in gaining support for this revolutionary legislation.
They are to be lauded for their commitment to the issue of women’s rights, their
willingness to work with women’s organizations and their success in gaining
support of their Knesset colleagues.
In December 2002, as a result of
lobbying by ICAR, I was elected by the Israel Bar Association to become one of
their two representatives on the Commission to Appoint Dayanim.
only woman on the commission from 2003 to 2009, I was witness to haredi
domination of the commission and the challenges faced by one woman versus nine
male commission members.
Thanks to the support of ICAR and its member
organizations, at commission meetings I was able to speak on behalf of Israeli
women and to urge my colleagues to support the appointment of dayanim who were
sensitive to the discrimination against women in the religious divorce process
and the operation of the rabbinical courts.
In many instances I was able
to convince my colleagues on the commission to appoint the most qualified and
suitable candidates, but not always. For the most part, it was a lonely as well
as frustrating experience.
During a brief period when Tzipi Livni was
justice minister, we were able to join forces on bringing women’s issues to the
debate. It was a real pleasure to work with this consummate female professional
who studied the materials, was sensitive to women’s concerns and projected a
knowledgeable as well as ministerial approach.
Working closely with
women’s organizations, I had encouraged them to provide the commission with
evaluations of candidates based on the experience of women seeking divorces and
appearing before some of these candidates.
During Livni’s one-year tenure
as justice minister she would request that I provide the commission with the
women’s evaluation of candidates during discussions of their
Thus women’s concerns became part of the file on each
candidate and were discussed in determining whether or not a particular
candidate should be appointed to be a dayan.
Sadly, in 2011 the Israel
Bar Association chose not to elect a woman to the commission, thus leaving the
commission an all-male body.
Women’s organizations petitioned the Supreme
Court to require that women be represented on this commission and an injunction
was issued, denying the commission the right to meet and appoint dayanim so long
as no women were serving on it.
While this matter is still pending before
the court, the recent elections have brought new faces and new ideas on women’s
issues to the Knesset and the government. As justice minister once again, Livni
will be chairing the commission. The Knesset, in a historical precedent, elected
a female MK, Shuli Muallem, as one of its representatives to the commission a
few weeks ago. Now the Knesset has gone much further by passing the legislation
which requires that at least four of the 11 members of the commission will be
While those women who will be serving on the Commission to Appoint
Dayanim may find themselves a bit frustrated by the deliberations of the
commission, as I was several years ago, at least they won’t be so lonely! Four
is definitely better than one! The author, a Jerusalem-based women’s rights
lawyer, is the director of the International Jewish Women’s Rights Project of
the International Council of Jewish Women and was the only woman on the
Commission to Appoint Dayanim from 2003 to 2009.