Rabbinical Court gets temporary appointments

First national-religious judge, Rabbi Eliezer Igra, to sit on Supreme Rabbinical Court in 10 years.

Rabbi Eliezer Igra 370 (photo credit: Ariel Palmon / Wikimedia Commons CC)
Rabbi Eliezer Igra 370
(photo credit: Ariel Palmon / Wikimedia Commons CC)
The ongoing failure to appoint rabbinical judges to the Supreme Rabbinical Court for Appeals has led Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to make three temporary appointments to the court.
There are currently only two sitting justices on the court, alongside the two chief rabbis who also serve as rabbinical judges, or dayanim, on the Supreme Rabbinical Court. A panel of at least three judges is required to hear cases so the dearth of dayanim on the court has led to a severe backlog.
Neeman, in consultation with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), appointed two haredi judges, Rabbi Nachum Prover and Rabbi Yitzhak El-Maliach, along with Rabbi Eliezer Igra, a national-religious judge. The selection of Igra represents the first time in over a decade that a rabbinic judge from the national-religious community has sat on the court.
Neeman made the temporary appointments, which are only valid for one year, because the selection process for permanent appointments has been officially frozen since late last year, although it has been backed up for much longer than that. The total number of positions on the court is not strictly defined and has fluctuated between five and nine rabbinical judges in recent years.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Schneller said that the process to get the three temporary appointments had been “extremely complex,” and had taken several months of work with a number of people including Amar and MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism.
Schneller accepted that the situation is not ideal but argued that the delay in appointing permanent rabbinical judges to the Supreme Rabbinical Court is causing serious problems for those with appeals waiting to be heard.
Some women’s right groups have nevertheless expressed reservations with the appointments.
Batya Kehana, the director of the Mavoi Satum divorce-rights lobbying group, said that although they were very happy with the appointment of Igra, the organization was extremely concerned with the judicial inclinations of Prover.
In divorce proceedings, said Kehana, Prover indicated a willingness to accept a position that even when a rabbinical court has instructed a husband to give his wife a Jewish bill of divorce, or get, the husband may still demand that his wife acquiesces financial and other conditions before he grants the get.
This, she said, would lend legitimacy to one of the major abuses of divorce proceedings in Jewish law. In many protracted divorce cases, the husband refuses to give his wife a bill of divorce in order to gain more favorable settlement terms.
Since according to Jewish law, a woman cannot get remarried and have children without being granted a bill of divorce by her husband, she is essentially trapped unless she agrees to his terms or turns to the rabbinical courts for a ruling instructing him to give the get.
This is frequently a lengthy process. According to the Rackman Center, the average time it takes for a woman to receive a get once proceedings have been initiated in the rabbinical courts is 642 days.
Between 1995 and 2007, 12.5 percent of the cases took more than four years before a get was given, and 28.4% took at least two years.
“The Supreme Rabbinical Court is the last place to which women can turn to get help,” said Kehana. “If extremists get appointed to this court, where else can they go? These are the judges who need to find the solutions, not to make more problems.”
The appointments process was frozen in November when the High Court of Justice accepted a petition from the women’s rights group Emunah to issue a temporary injunction to prevent the Selection Committee for Rabbinical Judges from convening.
Emunah filed the petition because of the absence of women on the committee over the past 10 years, due to the Israeli Bar Association’s selection of two men.
Schneller emphasized that he was also seeking to address this wider objection of the women’s rights groups, and has recently presented a bill to the Knesset to expand the selection committee to 12 members and have two women appointed to it.
The bill is in the preliminary stages of the legislative process.
Regardless of the injunction, the selection committee, which also appoints judges to the 12 regional rabbinic courts, has been gridlocked for several years because members have failed to reach agreements on which candidates to elect.
The supreme rabbinical court hears appeals of decisions made by the 12 regional religious courts.