On Tuesday, the Israel Bar Association will select two representatives to the
Commission to Appoint Dayanim.
While there has been a great deal of press
coverage lately about the selection of the members of the commission which
appoints civil court judges, including in-depth discussion of the various
political factions vying for control of the selection process, little attention
has been paid to the appointment of dayanim, or rabbinical court
The public has been inundated with public discussion regarding
the Knesset’s attempt to limit the Bar Association’s ability to appoint its
representatives to these commissions. Legislation has been proposed that would
make the chairman of the Bar Association automatically one of the two
representatives to the commissions that appoint civil as well as religious court
judges. The association’s current chairman, as has been the case since the it
was created over 50 years ago, is a man.
To date, the Bar Association has
never elected a woman to lead it.
Since the statutory commission
selecting civil court judges includes the president of the Supreme Court as well
as one other Supreme Court justice, there have been several women on this
commission. Currently one of the Bar Association representatives is also a
woman, so there are now two women on this 10-member commission. In recent years,
over half of their judicial appointments have included women.
COMMISSION to Appoint Dayanim, however, presents a much different
Members of this commission include the two chief rabbis, two
dayanim from the Beit Din Hagadol (The Great Court), the minister of justice,
another minister appointed by the prime minister, two MKs and two members of the
Bar Association. The chief rabbis and the dayanim must be male Orthodox rabbis,
which means there is built-in male domination of this
Furthermore, except for Tzipi Livni’s brief term during the
Sharon government, the minister of justice has always been a man, and
historically the Knesset has always selected Orthodox men from religious
political parties as its two representatives. Therefore, the Bar Association
seemed to present the only possibility for a woman to have a voice in the
selection of dayanim.
The Commission to Appoint Dayanim functioned as an
“old boys’ club” until 1996 when the Bar Association finally elected a woman as
one of its two representatives to this commission.
Since then, the Bar
Association has consistently elected a woman as one of its representatives to
the commission, thereby ending the male monopoly of this statutory
As the only woman to serve two terms as the association’s
representative to the commission, from 2003-2009, I was witness to the
importance of introducing women’s concerns and viewpoints to the selection
process. Despite the fact that I was the only woman on the commission, I was
able to bring the voices of Israeli women and women’s organizations to the
evaluation of candidates for the job of dayan. Since rabbinical courts have
exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce in Israel, and half of all
those who marry and divorce are women, it is vital that this all male court
system have some knowledge of women’s issues.
Unfortunately, this is
about to change.
Yes, the Bar Association is a secular
However, due to back-room deals arranged by various
political factions within the association, no women will be elected to the
Commission to Appoint Dayanim on November 22. A highly qualified female lawyer
with many years of experience representing women in the rabbinical courts, Bat
Sheva Shani, director of Yad L’isha, is the only woman candidate.
doesn’t have a chance! It’s common knowledge that the deals made by secular Bar
Association leaders have ceded to the haredi factions within the Bar the power
to select representatives to the commission. It’s called patronage, and it’s
alive and well in the Bar Association today. It doesn’t matter whether the
representatives they choose have much experience representing clients in the
The fact that there will not be even one woman on the
commission doesn’t seem to be very problematic either.
After all, women
are disappearing all over Israel these days, whether it’s on billboards, bus
advertisements, in military units or at public events.
Women’s voices are
being silenced and women’s bodies are being erased.
AS A member of the
“honorable profession” for over 40 years, I’m disappointed and saddened by the
behavior of my Israeli colleagues. When I studied law in the US in the 1960s,
there were very few women in the profession, sexism was rampant and I found
myself being verbally harassed and insulted by my male colleagues. As one of
three women students in a class of 300, many of my male classmates would make a
hissing sound whenever I spoke in class discussions.
The hissing stopped
after the first semester grades were published and I was second in the class.
Suddenly I was approached to join all-male study groups. I respectfully
declined, finding that studying at home with my toddler son was working out
pretty well. Since my husband was a surgical resident who practically lived at
the hospital and the baby did a lot of sleeping, I was able to complete my
The past 30 years have seen vast changes, as women
have flocked to the legal profession and now represent almost 50 percent of all
lawyers and civil court judges in Israel. The president of our Supreme Court is
a woman; two of the three judges who decided the Katsav case as well as the
Supreme Court appeal were women and the prosecutors were women. We have the
right to be proud of Israeli women’s accomplishment in the law
Nonetheless, the fact that the Commission to Appoint Dayanim
will again become an “old boys club” is a terrible regression. This newspaper
has devoted many articles over the years to the injustices suffered by women in
the religious divorce process, their claims of male bias and the need to restore
fairness and equal treatment of women to the rabbinical courts. Unfortunately,
women will no longer be seen or heard in the selection of dayanim. The 46,000
members of the Bar Association, as well as the Israeli public, have no reason to
be proud today.The writer is a Jerusalem-based women’s rights lawyer and
served as the Bar Association’s representative to the Commission to Appoint
Dayanim from 2003 to 2009.