Tell me, David Azoulay, what have the Arabs done wrong? For decades you have been abusing us – not that we like it, but we’ve gotten used to it. But what injustice have they committed? Why do you have to punish them with the Orthodox monopoly’s capricious lashings? Only to keep us from making demands? We are talking here about the Qadis Law of 1961, which was signed by the late prime minister Levi Eshkol. At the time, he was serving as finance minister and simultaneously as acting minister of religious affairs.
How did a member of Kibbutz Degania Bet find himself in the Ministry of Religious Affairs? The incumbent minister, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Toledano, the Sephardi chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, had been hastily ensconced in the position by then-prime minister Ben Gurion in the wake of the resignation of the National Religious Party from the government.
Rabbi Toledano, who was not a member of the Knesset, died of cardiac arrest a few days after his 80th birthday. Ben Gurion knew that the NRP would return to the government (and he was right, of course, because that same year, Zerach Warhaftig was indeed installed as minister).
In the meantime, however, the prime minister asked Eshkol to take charge. Today, regrettably, the office is occupied by Religious Services Minister David Azoulay, who is the one behind the government’s disgraceful opposition to the proposed amendment to the Qadis Law.
A qadi is a judge in a Sharia court, the Muslim equivalent of a rabbinic beit din. Sharia courts make decisions according to Muslim law in matters of personal status affecting Muslims in Israel, mainly marriage and divorce. It is not entirely an inaccurate oversimplification to say that the monopoly is Orthodox for Jews and Sharia for the Muslims.
In contrast to Jewish law (the Orthodox interpretation of it), Muslim women can actually serve as qadis, and there is nothing legally preventing them from doing so. In recent years, women have been appointed as qadis all over the Muslim world: in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, in Malaysia; and even right next door to us, in the Palestinian Authority.
So if the Sharia courts in Israel operate according to Muslim law, and there is no reason to prevent women from serving as qadis, what’s the problem? Ah, but there is a problem: the Jews.
MK Esawi Frej (Meretz) wanted to initiate an amendment to the law that would enable the appointment of women qadis.
He met with Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, and she was not only in favor of the amendment, but also expressed enthusiasm for the initiative.
A month ago, she attempted to bring up the proposed amendment in the ministerial committee for legislation, and was met with strong opposition.
Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) and MK David Azoulay (Shas) put their feet down. This will never happen, they said.
If we allow the appointment of a Muslim woman, Jewish women will also make similar demands.
Hoping to reason with the ministers, Frej went to talk with them.
“According to Muslim law, we can do this,” he tried to explain. “I’m not Jewish, why do I need to live according to your religious law? I respect Jewish law; you should respect my law.” Litzman shrugged his shoulders and said “no.”
Azoulay tried another tack: “I heard that among you there is also opposition.”
“I’m from Beit Hillel,” Frej replied.
But this issue cannot be put on hold. Five new qadis are about to be appointed, a lineup that will have an impact on the nature of the Sharia court for some time to come, and Frej, along with his colleagues MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) and Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), co-signers of the proposed legislation, are working together so that the historic opportunity to appoint at least one woman qadi will not be lost.
In 1951, when Israel was only three years old, it passed a law that granted equal rights to women.
“An ideological, revolutionary law that changed the social order,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Moshe Zilberg, one of the greatest scholars of Jewish Law. Israel expressed great pride in this progressive law, and rightfully so, in every possible international forum.
Now look how far the Orthodox monopoly has dragged us and religious life in Israel. As a result of its tyrannical rule, Muslim women, too, are paying a heavy price. Such a pity.The author is the director of the Masorti Movement