Against the backdrop of deepening tensions between the religious establishment and secular institutions, leading Rabbinic Court officials attacked the Supreme Court Sunday for what they considered to be egregious intervention in religion-state matters.
Two recent Supreme Court decisions that have curtailed rabbinic court jurisdiction "have given the religious community the feeling that Israel's highest court is antagonistic towards Jewish law," said legal adviser to the rabbinic courts Rabbi Shimon Ya'acobi during a conference on the relations between religious courts and civil law at the University of Haifa.
"In order to maintain good relations with the substantial segment of the Israeli population which is religious, it is imperative that the Supreme Court refrain from overturning the status quo on rabbinic court jurisdiction unless absolutely necessary," said Ya'acobi in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
after the conference.
"Unnecessary intervention hurts religious citizens' faith in the Supreme Court and raises questions about the purity of the court's intentions," he added.
Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, administrative head of the rabbinic courts, said he and many rabbinic judges concurred with Ya'acobi.
"There should be a gradual incorporation of more and more Jewish law into our civil legal system," said Ben-Dahan, "not the opposite. After all, this is both a democratic and Jewish state."
A spokesperson for the Supreme Court declined to comment on Ya'acobi's remarks.
Ya'acobi's comments came in the wake of two recent Supreme Court decisions that weakened rabbinic courts' powers.
The first decision, issued by a panel of judges headed by Justice Ayala Procaccia, effectively disqualified state rabbinic courts from arbitration on financial matters, even when both parties agreed. Procaccia said that an arbitration agreement reached in a rabbinic court would not be upheld in civil court.
This decision would have a direct impact on national religious and modern Orthodox Israelis who prefer settling monetary issues outside the secular courts. These Israelis choose state rabbinic courts over the private monetary courts run by haredi or hassidic communities.
Another possible outcome would be the weakening of the state rabbinic courts' jurisdiction on the monetary aspects of divorce, such as the way mutually held assets are split. Ya'acobi claimed that Procaccia's decision would create situations in which monetary agreements included in a package deal together with the writ of divorce [get
] would be renegotiated in civil court.
However, other legal scholars disagreed. They claimed Ya'acobi and others were attempting to make Procaccia's decision more of a blow to rabbinic jurisdiction than it really was.
The second decision, written by Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, reversed a rabbinic court decision because it accepted a video tape of a husband's infidelity with a lover - a violation of privacy law.
Ya'acobi said the Supreme Court overruled the rabbinic court's decision even though the rabbinic court specifically indicated that it did not base its decision on the video.
"It was clear to me that the Supreme Court would state its opinion on the use of clandestine videos that violate privacy," said Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kadari, of Bar-Ilan University's Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women. "Barak wanted to make sure to do it before he left the Supreme Court."
In parallel, the rabbinic establishment is launching its own offensive. The rabbinic court has initiated a bill already presented to the Justice Ministry that would anchor in law its jurisdiction over monetary matters when both sides agree.
Even before the establishment of the State of Israel, rabbinic courts have been deciding on monetary issues. But never has their jurisdiction over these issues been established in law.