Secular MKs skip debate on rabbinical courts

Secision to review courts was sparked, in part, by the latest State Comptroller's Report.

knesset plenum 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
knesset plenum 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Except for the chairwoman, Amira Dotan, not a single secular MK on the Knesset Law Committee attended a meeting held Thursday to discuss the structure and the functioning of the rabbinical courts. Out of 17 MKs on the committee, the only ones who attended were Dotan (Kadima), Zeev Elkin (Kadima), Otniel Schneller (Kadima), Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), Avraham Michaeli (Shas), Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) and Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism.) Thursday's meeting was one of a series of discussions meant to provide a comprehensive assessment of the operation of the rabbinical courts, its problems and how to solve them. The decision to review the rabbinical courts was sparked, in part, by the latest State Comptroller's Report, which highlighted several problems. Dotan, who said she was determined to conduct the meetings in a businesslike and quiet way, unlike most Knesset meetings, said her goal was to clarify the rabbinical court procedures so that the court's clients, secular as well as religious, would be able to understand what was going on and what they had to do. The committee devoted Thursday's meeting to the problem of case files that lay dormant in the secretariat of the law courts for months at a time. Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the director-general of the rabbinical courts administration, told the committee that many of these files were divorce files. If a dayan rules that the husband must give his wife a divorce, it is up to the couple to open a divorce file. If, after 30 days, the husband refuses to cooperate, the woman may open a file demanding that sanctions be taken against the husband. If there is no activity in the file for six months, the case will be brought back to the dayanim who will make contact with the husband and wife to see whether or not they want to proceed. If they still do nothing after two more weeks, the file will automatically be closed. According to representatives of women's organizations who attended the meeting, the procedure described by Ben-Dahan was in violation of the law. Batya Cahana-Dror, the legal adviser for the women's organization Mavoi Satum (Dead End), told the committee that a law passed in 1995 obliged the court to take the initiative after 30 days and see to it that a decision ordering the husband to grant a divorce was implemented. Since according to halacha, a divorce can only take place when a man gives the divorce decree to the woman and she accepts it, the court cannot grant the divorce in place of the husband. But it can apply one of several quite harsh legal sanctions, including jail, denial of a professional license, denial of a driver's license, and denial of the right to travel abroad to pressure the husband into doing so. Ben-Dahan and the legal adviser of the rabbinical courts administration, Shimon Ya'acobi, maintained that the dayanim do not want to speed up the process because they hope that in the meantime the couple will make up and drop the proceedings. But according to Cahana-Dror, often the woman is too frightened or demoralized to ask for sanctions and is not at all thinking of making up with her husband. In these circumstances, by taking the initiative, the court helps the woman by applying sanctions against the recalcitrant husband.