Court delays ruling on women on ‘dayanim’ panel

Move will further postpone the appointment of rabbinical judges, which are currently in short supply.

Justice gavel court law book judge 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Justice gavel court law book judge 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
The High Court of Justice on Monday delayed ruling on a petition calling for female representation on the state body that appoints rabbinical judges because of the upcoming elections.
The delay will further postpone the appointment of rabbinical judges, which are currently in short supply on the court benches, since the High Court granted a temporary injunction at the beginning of this year in favor of the petitioners, freezing the appointments process.
Supreme Court President Elyakim Rubenstein, one of the three presiding judges, voiced unambiguous support for ensuring that a place on the 10- member selection committee for rabbinical judges is reserved for women, but said that it would be better to wait until after the coming general election on January 22 before issuing a final ruling.
The next hearing on the issue will now be held within 90 days of the election.
Women’s rights advocacy group Emunah, along with several other organizations, submitted the petition in November 2011, which argues that the lack of female representation on the committee violates gender equality laws.
During the hearing, Rubenstein said acidly that several “miracles” could occur following the elections, including the appointment of a female justice minister, who automatically gets a seat on the committee.
He added that it was also possible that if the composition of the Knesset changes significantly in the elections, the likelihood of advancing legislation on guaranteeing a woman a place on the committee could increase, something Rubenstein described as desirable.
The haredi Knesset factions Shas and United Torah Judaism put a freeze on this legislation back in January, claiming that it would change the status quo on religious affairs and thus infringe coalition agreements.
In delaying the High Court’s ruling, Rubenstein said the state had guaranteed not to make any more appointments before the elections.
In March, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman made three temporary appointments to the Supreme Rabbinical Court, which desperately needs to fill several spots on its bench in order to clear a growing backlog of cases.
The selection committee is comprised of the two serving chief rabbis, two members of Knesset, two rabbinical judges – known as dayanim – from the Supreme Rabbinical Court, two ministers – one of whom is automatically the justice minister – and two attorneys the Israel Bar Association elects.
The Bar Association’s selection of two male candidates to the committee last November meant that there would be no women on the committee for the first time in 12 years.
One of the principle powers of the rabbinical courts is jurisdiction over all matters of marriage and divorce, something that women’s rights groups see as prejudicial since women are at a disadvantage in divorce proceedings due to certain stipulations of Jewish law.
In light of this, Emunah and other groups have assigned high priority to the task of guaranteeing female representation on the selection committee.
The International Coalition For Agunah Rights said on Monday it would be lobbying the major political parties in the run-up to the elections to convince them that securing female representation on the committee was an important aspect of social change which needed to be part of coalition agreements in efforts to form a new government.
Rabbi Shlomo Daichovsky, the director of the rabbinical courts system, said he supported legislation guaranteeing female representation on the selection committee which would provide for at least three women on the panel.