Religious Zionists demand Friedmann rescind haredi judicial appointments

Tzohar, Emunah threaten to petition High Court over new dayanim.

Daniel Friedmann 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Daniel Friedmann 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Orthodox Zionist protests over the naming of 12 new haredi dayanim (religious court judges) last week - out of 15 appointments - continued on Sunday as a letter sent to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann by NGOs Tzohar and Emunah threatened legal action. "Though the tools we are using at this time are legal ones, our struggle is a Jewish moral one," said Tzohar Rabbi Yuval Cherlow of Petah Tikva. The organization's goal was "the establishment of worthy rabbinic courts, operating according to Halacha with clean hands and moral purity, which are composed of dayanim who are great Torah scholars who live among their people and are sensitive to the injustices caused, as it were, in the name of Halacha," he said. At issue are the perceived unwillingness of haredi judges to compromise within the bounds of Halacha on aiding agunot (women trapped by their husbands' refusal to divorce) and on easing requirements placed before potential converts from among the estimated 300,000 non-Jewish olim living in Israel. These problems, several religious Zionist leaders have said in recent days, are not being addressed by haredi judges. A representative of Tzohar told The Jerusalem Post that a petition to the High Court of Justice was already being drawn up. The primary legal argument contained in the letter, which was also sent to the members of the Rabbinical Courts Appointments Committee and to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, is that the process according to which dayanim are chosen on the basis of political affiliation and halachic loyalty is illegal. Since coalition agreements affect the membership of the committee, the dominance of the rabbinical courts by haredi is a direct outcome of the influence of haredi parties in the cabinet. "From what little my clients know [of the selection process], the committee members did not fulfill article 6-B of the Dayanim Law, according to which 'a committee member shall vote according to his judgment, and will not be beholden to the decision of the body that appointed him to the committee,'" wrote attorneys Yeshayaho Avraham and Dr. Aviad Hacohen, who represent Tzohar and Emunah, respectively, in the letter. "On March 19 [the day in which the new dayanim were selected] there was no serious discussion, and certainly no decision-making 'with an open heart and a willing soul,'" the letter continued. Rather, wrote Avraham and Hacohen, "before the list of 53 candidates was even read, some of the committee members produced lists that were prepared ahead of time. There was a vote on these lists alone, in which at least one member didn't even know the candidates, their background, qualifications or lack of qualifications, or the strings attached to the [candidates] that could have influenced the selection process." For this reason, the letter reads, some of the dayanim selected are not the most qualified. In fact, according to the Tzohar organization, some are unfit and were chosen for familial or political considerations alone. The attorneys asked for information on the decision-making process, including "the protocols of the committee [meeting] and the reasons for the selection of each of the dayanim who were selected, and why they were chosen over the other candidates." They called on the justice minister to delay the official appointment and swearing-in of the new dayanim, and said their clients were considering legal action. The appointment process "violates the principle of equality, dealing it a terrible blow, and amounts to a high-handed cancellation of the principle of 'the independence of the judiciary,'" the letter reads. It asks that the information be supplied "in the next few days, so that my clients will be able to determine their next steps, including an appeal to the courts."