Rabbinic judges grab case from secular courts

Technically, divorce proceedings are adjudicated in the court in which the case is filed first, in this case the civil court.

justice court 88 (photo credit: )
justice court 88
(photo credit: )
Another salvo was fired in the ongoing power struggle between religious and secular courts Thursday after the High Rabbinic Court ruled that religious courts had primary jurisdiction in monetary issues connected with divorces while civil courts had only secondary or residual jurisdiction. The case in question involved a wife, accused of cheating on her husband with her husband's best friend, who managed to file for divorce in a civil court 15 minutes before her husband filed in a rabbinic court. Technically, divorce proceedings are adjudicated in the court in which the case is filed first, in this case the civil court. However, Rabbis Shlomo Doechovsky, Ezra Bar-Shalom and Avraham Sheinfeld ruled that a few minutes were insignificant in determining who had won the "race for jurisdiction." The rabbis went on to argue that when the filing for divorce was basically coincidental, as in this case, the rabbinic court took precedence because of its special and specific jurisdiction as the nation's prime arbiter of divorce cases. The rabbis admitted that determining the rabbinic courts' primary jurisdiction was an obiter dictum - an expressed opinion not necessary in order to rule the way they ruled. The rabbis said that they could have found in favor of the husband due to another, technical, reason. Nevertheless, the rabbis expressed their opinion on the proper standing of rabbinic courts vis-à-vis the secular courts in an apparently blatant act of defiance underlying the tension between the rabbinic and civil courts. Sources close to the rabbinic court said that rabbis were purposely laying the groundwork for future cases that would put in question the jurisdiction of the religious courts. Attorney Tal Itkin, who represents the wife, rejected the rabbinic court's arguments. Itkin said that civil courts and rabbinic courts had equal standing when it came to ruling in divorce cases that involved monetary matters as well. As a result, the only way to decide which of the two courts would adjudicate was by determining who had filed first. All marriages and divorces are conducted in Israel in accordance with Jewish law. Religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims have their own divorce courts and intermarriage between two faiths is not recognized by law. Two recent Supreme Court decisions have been seen by the rabbinic establishment as blows to religious court autonomy. The first decision, issued by a panel of judges headed by Justice Ayala Procaccia in April 2006, 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. It also disallowed rabbinic courts from ruling on material or financial disputes between couples once they were divorced, even if the couple agreed to this in a divorce settlement. 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. However, Rabbinic Courts legal adviser Shimon Ya'acobi, said that according to a recent study conducted by the rabbinic court administration, of 65 petitions to the Supreme Court against rabbinic court decisions since the beginning of 2007 only two were even considered.