Religious women's groups ask Netanyahu to limit power of country's rabbinical courts

Expanding RCA's authority in coalition negotiations would harm status of women, groups explain.

agunot protest 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
agunot protest 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The directors of two religious women's organizations sent a letter to Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, ahead of the coalition talks with Shas and United Torah Judaism, asking him to restrict the jurisdiction of rabbinical courts to divorce cases only. Attorney Batya Kahana-Dror, director of Mavoi Satum (Dead End), and attorney Ricki Shapira, director of Kolech (Your Voice), sent copies of the letter to Netanyahu, the heads of the Knesset factions, the coalition negotiators and every member of the new Knesset. Kahana-Dror and Shapira wrote that expanding the rabbinical courts' authority as part of the negotiations to forge the next government would harm the status of women and increase the number of agunot - "chained women" - whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce. The two NGO heads also appealed to Netanyahu to appoint women to the committee responsible for choosing rabbinical judges. "Some of the injustices suffered by women are a result of the rabbinical judges - their point of view, character and quality," they wrote. "Appointing women to the committee would increase the likelihood that responsible judges are chosen." They further asked Netanyahu to make sure that the amendment to the Balance of Resources Law allowing for the distribution of property in divorce cases ahead of the completion of legal proceedings, which was approved by the 17th Knesset, will remain law during this Knesset's tenure. They asked that Netanyahu not surrender to Shas and UTJ's demand to expand the rabbinical courts' authority "in exchange for [the haredi parties] agreeing to Yisrael Beiteinu's bill for civil unions [between people who are not recognized as Jews]." The end result, they said, "would turn most of the public, who are interested in marrying in accordance with Jewish law, into hostages of the rabbinical courts system." UTJ chairman Ya'acov Litzman, who heads his party's negotiations with the Likud, said UTJ was not trying to expand the rabbinical courts' power. "When it comes to matters of state and religion, we ask that the status quo, which has been agreed upon for many years, be maintained. We only aim to undo the changes made by Israel's [civil] courts. This is the basis for our life in this country and there is no reason to ruin it," Litzman said. When asked why women should not be appointed to the committee that selects rabbinical judges, Litzman said: "Because we need to maintain what has been customary and acceptable for many years, and not change anything." Shas had this to say: "All matters of religion and state will be determined solely in accordance with Halacha. Anyone who asks that politics be introduced into matters of Halacha is better off saying it publicly and not covering himself in an inappropriate cloak."