MKs clash over appointment of women to elect dayanim

Women’s rights advocates made several proposals to have at least 1 woman appointed to the Rabbinical committee.

Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court 390 (photo credit: Ilan Costica / Creative Commons license)
Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court 390
(photo credit: Ilan Costica / Creative Commons license)
Women’s rights advocates made several proposals to have at least one woman appointed to the Selection Committee for Rabbinical Judges on Tuesday, during a tempestuous hearing of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women.
The Israel Bar Association’s election of two male candidates to the 10-man committee back in November meant that there would be no women on the committee for the first time in 12 years, a situation which women’s rights groups are trying to reverse.
The rabbinical courts system has exclusive jurisdiction over all matters of marriage and divorce in Israel. Women’s rights groups are lobbying for women to be appointed to the selection committee because of the influence rabbinical judges, or dayanim, have over cases in which a man refuses to give a bill of divorce to his wife, preventing her from remarrying.
Batsheva Sherman-Shani, director of the Yad L’Isha organization, proposed during the hearing that either one of the two male Knesset members on the committee be replaced and switched for a female member, or that the prime minister select a female minister to fill one of the two places on the committee reserved for cabinet ministers.
Committee member MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) said, however, that such an arrangement was not possible and threatened that the government would fall if any such attempt were made.
The current appointees from the cabinet are Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who is automatically appointed, and Shas Chairman Eli Yishai. The two Knesset representatives are Otniel Schneller (Kadima) and Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism).
Ze’ev said that in principle he has no opposition to reserving a spot on the committee for a woman, but argued that because there is a pressing need to fill at least seven vacant chairs on the Supreme Rabbinical Court for Appeals, the current committee must be allowed to convene without a female delegate. He also noted that he was only speaking from a personal point of view and not on behalf of the Shas party.
Ze’ev also challenged the notion that a woman on the committee would have any practical effect on the number of women who are currently being denied a bill of divorce by their husbands.
At the end of the hearing, committee chairwoman Tzipi Hotovely stated that she will meet with coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin to reach an understanding with Shas over the issue, and will also present herself as a candidate to replace one of the current Knesset representatives on the committee.
According to Sherman-Shani, since the Knesset elected its representatives in the first place, it can elect to replace them as well.
Despite Ze’ev’s reservations about further delaying the work of the selection committee, he did, nevertheless, propose that the reservation of a place for a woman come into effect for the committee’s next term.
But women’s rights groups object vehemently to this proposal because they claim that several of the current candidates for the Supreme Rabbinical Court hold opinions extremely detrimental to women’s rights, particularly regarding divorce, and their election to the court would be a heavy setback for the liberalization of divorce proceedings.
They also hope that the presence of women on the committee will lead to the appointment of more liberal-minded rabbinical judges who will employ a broader range of the tools available to them to free a woman from a marriage when her husband refuses to give her a bill of divorce.
Following the election of the Bar Association’s candidates in November, several women’s rights groups petitioned the High Court, claiming that the absence of women on the committee violates Israeli gender equality and anti-discrimination laws. The court subsequently granted a temporary injunction preventing the Selection Committee from convening and appointing any judges.
Several MKs have also attempted to advance a bill that would reserve a place on the committee for a woman, but it was frozen by government coalition partners Shas and UTJ, on the grounds that the proposed law would alter the status quo in matters of religion and state.