Coalition sources express concern for candidacy of Eichler in vote for rabbinical courts committee

The issue has caused a bitter battle within the two constituent parties of the United Torah Judaism faction.

The Knesset  (photo credit: REUTERS)
The Knesset
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The battle among Knesset members for election to the 11-member Committee for Appointing Rabbinical Judges heated up on Tuesday, as the coalition and the opposition proposed their respective candidates for the powerful panel.
The issue has caused conflict within the two constituent parties of the United Torah Judaism faction, Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael, with the latter threatening to block an important piece of legislation on Monday if its candidate did not receive the nomination.
With the vote for the position set to take place by secret ballot on Wednesday, the two factions reached an agreement on Tuesday that named MK Yisrael Eichler of Agudat Yisrael the sole UTJ candidate.
However, sources in the opposition, the coalition and even Degel Hatorah said there was a chance that Eichler would not be elected.
The 11-member committee consists of the two chief rabbis, two rabbinical judges from the Supreme Rabbinical Court, two government ministers, two MKs, two members of the Israel Bar Association and a female rabbinical court advocate.
Due to legislation that the last Knesset passed, four of the positions on the committee must be women – a policy that women’s rights activists demanded, since the four seats reserved for the chief rabbis and rabbinical judges are automatically men (the rabbinate and rabbinical courts are Orthodox institutions, and therefore consist solely of male rabbis).
Likud MK Nava Boker is the second coalition candidate, and the opposition has nominated Zionist Union MK Revital Swid.
UTJ MK Moshe Gafni of Degel Hatorah withdrew his candidacy on Tuesday after the intervention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the issue, and according to Degel sources, he is now set to become a member of the forum of faction leaders – the group that decides what bills are brought to a vote in the plenum.
A clause in the coalition agreement between the Likud and UTJ requires that the coalition support the UTJ candidate for a spot on the committee.
Nonetheless, because of the coalition’s razor-thin majority in the Knesset and the presence of several liberal- minded coalition MKs who likely do not favor Eichler’s candidacy, sources in Degel Hatorah said Tuesday that there was a significant risk Eichler would not win Wednesday’s vote.
Although coalition discipline is theoretically enforced for the vote, the fact that the poll is conducted by secret ballot means that MKs can vote their conscience if they so desire.
Sources in Kulanu also suggested that party MKs not yet decided whom to vote for.
A spokesman for Eichler, however, said that the MK was confident of victory and that he would receive support from members of the opposition as well as the coalition.
The rabbinical courts have exclusive jurisdiction over Jewish marriage and divorce, and therefore have heavy influence over all of the state’s Jewish citizens. Women’s rights organizations see the committee as a crucial forum for advancing the standing of women in the rabbinical courts. These groups believe that the conservative interpretations of Jewish law by many of the current rabbinical judges severely compromise that standing.
Rabbinical judges have not been appointed for several years, leaving 24 positions vacant on the 12 regional rabbinical courts and another seven open slots on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Candidates for the latter are elected only from the regional courts, which means that after the slots on the Supreme Rabbinical Court are filled, the regional courts will have another seven positions that need filling.
Due to this large number of open positions, the new appointment committee representatives will have a heavy influence on the character and direction of the rabbinical courts in the coming years.