Chief Rabbinate stands behind Orlev legislation

Relatively moderate bill allows rabbinical courts to arbitrate monetary disputes according to Halacha, in cases where both divorcees agree to do so.

orlev desk 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
orlev desk 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Chief Rabbinate has announced that it will support a more moderate version of a bill submitted to the Knesset to extend the powers of the state rabbinical courts than the one being pushed by the haredi parties.
The moderate bill was submitted by Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) and called for allowing the rabbinical courts to arbitrate monetary disputes according to Halacha, in cases where both sides agree to do so.
The more far-reaching bill, submitted by MKs Uri Maklev and Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) calls not only for that, but also for granting the rabbinical court exclusive right to hear all disputes stemming from the court’s ruling on divorce agreements.
Leaders of women’s movements who accuse the rabbinical courts of discriminating against women in divorce matters, oppose both bills, but one of them, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, director of Bar-Ilan Law Faculty’s Rackman Institute, was relieved to hear that the rabbinical courts were backing Orlev’s proposal.
Speaking at a recent symposium held by the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, Eli Ben-Dahan said, “The Rabbinical Courts Authority stands behind the bill formulated by Orlev.
“The courts should only deal with monetary matters [and not disputes by divorced couples involving the terms of the divorce agreement.] This is what we are asking for and this is the bill we are talking about.”
Ben-Dahan made it clear, however, that he was not happy about the decision.
“We were forced to concede because of the incitement from the women’s organizations who always charge that they are always being extorted,” said Dahan. “I believe that the concession we are making here is a mistake, a mistake for the women.”
The bill proposed by Maklev and Gafni is part of the coalition agreement their party signed with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Both bills were drafted in response to a ruling by Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia in 2006, to the effect that the state rabbinical courts could not serve as arbiters in monetary disputes unless they are an integral part of a divorce agreement.
The ruling was one of three handed down by the High Court of Justice in the space of 14 years that the rabbinical courts regard as impinging on and reducing their powers.
In the first, the Supreme Court ruled that in divorce agreements, the rabbinical courts must split all joint property in half, in accordance with secular law.
In the second, it ruled that the rabbinical court could not rule on disputes between divorced couples stemming from the divorce ruling, since they had no legal jurisdiction over these matters, only over the divorce itself.
Under the third ruling, the rabbinical courts cannot act as arbiters in monetary disputes even if both litigants agreed. This practice had been common since the establishment of the state, even though it had never been anchored in law.
The haredim demanded to recoup their losses by passing legislation that would undo all three High Court rulings.
However, they failed to do so in the previous Knesset, even though they had included the legislation in their coalition agreement with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Women’s organizations, backed by then-justice minister Daniel Friedmann, managed to block the legislation.
In the current Knesset, Orlev proposed a compromise bill which would leave monetary disputes between divorced couples exclusively in the civil courts, while allowing other types of monetary disputes to be handled in the rabbinical courts if both sides agreed.
Halperin-Kaddari told The Jerusalem Post that her main concern was fairness towards women in the divorce procedure, and that even though Orlev’s proposal left post-divorce disputes in the civil courts, she feared that the rabbinical courts would try to use the new law to expand their powers in that area as well.
Ricki Shapira, a leader of the women’s organization, Kolech, and a member of the staff of the Shaarei Mishpat Law College, warned that the move to allow litigants in civil cases to apply to the rabbinical courts would always give the upper hand to the stronger of the two sides.
For example, an Orthodox or haredi employer who believes a rabbinicalcourt would be more favorable to him than a labor court could subtletypressure a secular employee to “agree” to go to such a tribunal. AJewish employer could force his Arab employee to do the same.
“It is obvious,” she wrote, “that whoever chooses the court that is convenient for him, will be the stronger side.”
Orlev told the Post that hehad formulated his bill in consultation with Justice Minister YaakovNeeman and would bring it to the Knesset during the summer session.