UTJ, Shas veto 'women on dayanim panel' bill

Legislation sets quota of two seats for women on the committee that appoints rabbinical judges.

Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court 390 (photo credit: Ilan Costica / Creative Commons license)
Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court 390
(photo credit: Ilan Costica / Creative Commons license)
United Torah Judaism and Shas vetoed government support on Monday afternoon for a bill that proposes that two places for women be reserved on the committee which appoints rabbinical judges, or dayanim, to the rabbinical courts.
Although the bill was approved for a first reading in Knesset by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, UTJ and Shas claimed in Monday’s meeting of coalition faction chairmen that it would change the status quo in matters of religion and state. According to the coalition agreement, UTJ and Shas may veto coalition support for any such measures.
The measure will now have to pass a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday before it can proceed toward the three readings required to become law, but without the support of the Likud, the bill may not have enough support to pass.
Shas representatives were unavailable for comment.
Speaking with the press on Monday, Likud faction chairman Ze’ev Elkin said that because of the veto, coalition discipline will be enforced and coalition lawmakers will have to vote against the bill.
Batya Kehana, director of the divorce rights group Mavoi Satum, expressed anger with the decision and called for members of Knesset to overcome “narrow political considerations” for the benefit of the public interest.
“The argument of United Torah Judaism and Shas that this bill violates the status quo on religion and state is absurd,” Kehana told The Jerusalem Post. “It demonstrates a mindset that believes discrimination against women is part of the Jewish religion, and which opposes any initiative that might improve the situation of women in the rabbinical courts.”
The International Coalition for Agunah Rights, an umbrella group for 27 women’s rights groups that helped draft the bill, said that the decision legitimizes the worsening trend of discrimination against women.
The appointments committee for dayanim, headed by the justice minister, elect rabbinical judges to the 12 regional rabbinical courts.
Women are at a disadvantage to men in divorce proceedings due to a stipulation in Jewish law that a husband must willingly give his wife a bill of divorce, or get, before the marriage is terminated and the woman is able to remarry.
According to a recent report prepared by the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, it takes an average of 642 days for a woman to receive a get after proceedings are initiated in a rabbinical court.
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, says the report, whose findings were presented in a Knesset committee hearing earlier this month.
There are several hundred cases of women being denied a bill of divorce currently open, although exact numbers are not available.
According to Kehana, many husbands who refuse to give their wives a get do so as a bargaining tactic to gain favorable terms in the divorce settlement.
The committee has 10 members – the two chief rabbis, two members of Knesset, two dayanim from the Supreme Rabbinical Court, two ministers – one of whom is automatically the justice minister, and two attorneys elected by the Israeli Bar Association.
The bill, proposed by MKs Orit Zuaretz, Zehava Gal-On, Uri Orbach, Tzipi Hotovely and Einat Wilf, stipulates that at least one of the member’s of Knesset and one of the attorneys must be women.
“These matters require immediate implementation before the appointments committee reconvenes,” Minke said.
In November, the Israel Bar Association angered women’s groups by failing to select a woman to serve on the committee, despite a pledge by the head of the largest political faction to do so. He backed down because of political deals within the Bar Association.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.