Date set for dayanim talks

In the latest chapter of the ongoing saga swirling around the country's religious court system, the Rabbinic Court Administration announced on Monday that it will be convening the nine members of its Committee for Appointment of Rabbinical Judges on May 15. Members of the committee who spoke with The Jerusalem Post said they did not know who decided to convene the committee nor what the agenda of the meeting would be. The meeting will take place a day ahead of the scheduled meeting of the State Attorney in which it is set to answer petitions claiming the rabbinic judge appointments were made based on nepotism and, therefore, should be disqualified. The decision to convene the appointment committee was announced amid unfounded media reports which stated that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz would annul the appointment of 15 rabbinical judges based on technicalities. It was discovered after the vote that 14 of the 15 elected rabbis had failed to renew their rabbinic judge ordinations, which expire every two years. Additionally, there were procedural problems with the way the minutes were taken in two subcommittees. Mazuz's legal nitpicking, however, ignored the heart of the issue: A public outcry charges that the election was fixed in advance by the Haredi parties, which control six of the 10 committee seats, and was therefore illegal. Out of 15 Rabbinic judges selected, 12 are Haredi. At least three of the candidates have ties to either Rabbis Ovadia Yosef or Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. For instance, Rabbi Shlomo Stessman is the son of Professor Yochanan Stessman, the personal physician of Rav Yosef and Rabbi Binyamin Atias is the brother of Communications Minister Ariel Atias, who holds the number two slot in Shas. Rabbi Yosef Rabbinovitz is the brother of the Chief Rabbi of the Kotel Shmuel Rabbinovitz, who is close to Elyashiv. Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai, along with two rabbinic judges, Shas MK Yitzhak Vaknin and Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, and Rabbis Yosef and Elyshiv, make up a five-man haredi bloc in the nine-member committee. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yonah Metzger does not take part in the voting. In parallel, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, who presided over the March 19 election in his role as head of the appointment committee, said Sunday that he was willing to consider annulling the election since it would likely be more efficient to renew the certificates of the elected rabbis and hold new elections. The Tzohar Rabbinic Organization, Emunah, the National Religious Women's Movement, the Israel Bar Association, the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center and Bar Ilan University's Rackman Center all petitioned the High Court against the appointments. The High Court issued an interim injunction preventing the rabbis from being sworn in. Meanwhile, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, head of the Rabbinic Court Administration, said Monday that Mazuz still had not made up his mind whether or not to annul the appointments and call for a reelection. Members could only speculate on the reason for convening the committee, as no explanation was given to them when informed of the decision. One legal source reckoned that the committee was being convened to annul the old vote and conduct a new vote after ironing out the legal technicalities that bothered Mazuz. Attorney Sharon Shenhav, Israel Bar Association representative on the committee, said she would protest the attempt to convene the committee without the compulsory ten day advance written notice. Attorney Eli Shmuelian, the other Bar Association representative also said he would not attend the meeting for the same reasons. A Justice Ministry spokesman refused to comment on a meeting that took place Monday between Mazuz and Friedmann.•