Female rabbinical court advocate added to committee for election of rabbinical judges

Dr. Rachel Levmore will serve on the committee pursuant to a new law that guarantees 4 out of 11 spots for women.

Aliza Lavie 370 (photo credit: Yesh Atid)
Aliza Lavie 370
(photo credit: Yesh Atid)
A female rabbinical court advocate has been appointed to sit on the committee for appointing rabbinical judges, in accordance with legislation passed during the last Knesset session.
MKs Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and Shuli Moalem- Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi) authored a law which guarantees four spots out of 11 on the committee for women, including an MK, a minister and a representative from the Israel Bar Association, as well as a rabbinical court advocate.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), who chairs the committee, appointed Dr. Rachel Levmore to serve as the rabbinical court advocate.
The panel is seen by women’s rights groups as critical for alleviating some of the problems faced by women seeking to obtain a divorce from their husbands, and the passage of the law represents a significant victory for such organizations.
It is estimated that there are several thousand women in Israel whose husbands refuse to give them the bill of divorce, or “get”. The average time it takes for a woman to receive a get after proceedings are initiated in a rabbinical court is 642 days.
Between 1995 and 2007, 12.5 percent of the cases took more than four years and 28.4 percent took at least two years.
Levmore now joins Moalem-Refaeli and Livni on the committee, although a fourth woman will not be brought on to the current panel because the legislation was passed after the appointment of the new members.
The remaining members of the committee include Sephardi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Askenazi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef; supreme rabbinical judges Tzion Boaron and Tzion Elgrabli; Communications Minister Gilad Erdan; Shas MK Eli Yishai and two Israel Bar Association representatives, attorneys Mordechai Eisenberg and Asher Axelrod.
There are currently five empty seats on the Rabbinical Court, as well as 14 empty seats on the 12 regional rabbinical courts around the country, which the new committee will fill.
Despite the unprecedented number of women now on the panel, divorce-rights groups are nevertheless cautious. They are concerned about the chances of appointing liberal- minded rabbinical judges inclined to prevent husbands from holding out for favorable divorce settlement terms in return for granting the divorce.
In Jewish law, a husband must willingly grant a bill of divorce to his wife before she can remarry and have children.
In the past, appointments have been made by committee consensus, although they may be carried out with a majority of eight of the 11 members.
Of the current panel, only the three women are seen as being reliably liberal – although several other members may also be inclined to appoint rabbinical judges with a more moderate approach.
Rabbi Tzion Boaron was a candidate in the recent elections for chief rabbi and was publicly backed by two prominent divorce-rights groups, Yad Le’isha and Mavoi Satum, who described his attitude to women whose husbands refuse to grant a divorce as “moderate and humanistic.”
Erdan may also be inclined to appoint more liberal-minded judges, although women’s right’s groups have expressed concern with the Likud party’s allegiance to the haredi political establishment and the influence of that relationship on the rabbinical judges appointments process.
Appointments have been stalled for close to two years following an injunction issued by the High Court of Justice at the beginning of 2012, preventing the committee from convening due to the absence of any women on the panel.
Even before the injunction, granted at the request of the Emunah women’s rights group, the process was badly backed up following a lack of consensus on the panel.
Levmore has a PhD in Talmud and Jewish Law from Bar-Ilan University and is a rabbinical court advocate and coordinator of the Agunah and Get- Refusal Prevention Project of the International Young Israel Movement in Israel and the Jewish Agency.
Levmore was also one of the authors of a prenuptial agreement designed to prevent get refusal in accordance with Jewish law, and has written a book on the issue.
“Thanks to the law proposed by MKs Dr. Aliza Lavie and Shuli Moalem- Refaeli the composition of the committee for appointing rabbinical judges is now much more balanced than it was in the past, not just on a gender basis, but also in the representation of fields from which the members are from, both from the societal and rabbinical court sides,” said Levmore following the appointment.
Lavie said that having a female rabbinical court advocate appointed to the committee had been one of her highest priorities since entering the Knesset.
“Rachel is the right person in the right place and I’m sure that her presence on the committee, together with the other women guaranteed by the law, will lead to the appointment of attentive and moderate rabbinical judges who are in touch with Israeli society,” said Lavie.
Robyn Shames, executive director of the International Coalition for Agunah Rights, said that she had “high hopes that the new committee will appoint suitable rabbinical judges that will help solve the problems of agunot and women who cannot get their bill of divorce.”