A haredi Supreme Court judge – what does that really mean?

There is therefore need for further thinking as to the prerequisites for serving in the state’s judicial institutions in general, and the Supreme Court in particular.

The Supreme Court, Jerusalem (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Supreme Court, Jerusalem
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
As the new appointments for the Supreme Court were recently announced, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and others announced their desire to see a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) justice appointed. They maintain that this is necessary for the Supreme Court to more fully represent the diversity of Israeli society and the multiple views therein. In the past, Minister Shaked was quoted as saying, “It’s a disgrace that there is no Haredi justice.”
She should be praised for her commitment to the principles of equality and pluralism, though one may wonder whether those who speak in favor of appointing a Haredi justice are genuinely committed to these values or whether this is just another expression of the hypocrisy (all too familiar in our political climate) which views the needed representation of “diversity” as first and foremost the need to better reflect the colors and shades of the government coalition. Suffice it to mention that we have not yet heard a similarly strong statement regarding equitable representation of women and Arabs.
Discriminating against Haredim as human beings or as Israeli citizens is totally unacceptable, but the question of appointing a Haredi justice to the Supreme Court raises additional questions that the minister and her colleagues refuse to address.
A key element in the Haredi outlook is the rejection of the legitimacy of Israel’s laws and civil judiciary. Only last month did Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef announce at a national rabbinic gathering that rabbis in Israel should warn the public that in civil disputes they ought to turn to rabbinic courts rather than to the state civil courts.
He explained his push on the basis of the halachic ineligibility of women to give testimony, and on the prohibition against accepting testimony from those who are not religiously observant or from “state witnesses”: “They decide matters that are against the Torah and admit witnesses that are against Torah law. They accept testimony from people who are not God fearing and desecrate the Sabbath! Also, they accept women as witnesses... a ‘state witness’ is prohibited by Jewish law without any doubt.”
It’s important to remember that the Chief Rabbi’s late father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ruled that a civil court judge is considered “evil” (rasha), rendering him ineligible for testimony, and therefore nullified a marriage when one of the two witnesses was an Orthodox civil court judge.
He explained that “he who turns to gentile courts that adjudicate according to their laws is revolting against Moses’ Torah, and is called rasha...they [Israeli civil court judges – U.R.] adjudicate according to the laws of the world nations, rather than by the Torah. They admit women’s testimonies.
They are doing a number of things against the Torah... all judges in the secular courts are [therefore] ineligible to give testimony.”
Many Haredi rabbis have explicitly prohibited bringing legal disputes before arkaot (as gentile and Israeli civil courts are described in Haredi rabbinic literature). This is based upon their treating Israeli laws as “gentile laws” and worse. This is what the leader of the Ashkenazi Haredi community in the early years of the state, the Chazon Ish, held: “They are not allowed to take upon themselves the laws of the nations or to legislate laws.” He stressed that “there is no difference between one who comes before non-Jewish judges and a Jew who adjudicates according to fabricated laws. And it is worse yet that they have replaced the laws of the Torah with nonsensical laws.” He further admonished that “if the citizens agree regarding this [namely if they agree on a democratic legislative process – U.R.] their agreement is invalid, and if they enforce it – their judgments are robbery and oppression, and a revolt against Moses’ Torah.”
Similarly, former chief rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar wrote that Israel’s state courts are in the category of “gentile courts,” and coming to judgment before them is prohibited and constitutes a desecration of the Divine Name.
There is therefore need for further thinking as to the prerequisites for serving in the state’s judicial institutions in general, and the Supreme Court in particular. It would be necessary to ascertain whether Haredi candidates for this position reject the outlook which delegitimizes the State of Israel, its civil courts and its laws. It is essential to verify that candidates for judicial posts recognize the laws of the Knesset and do not aspire to eradicate them and replace them with Torah Law. That they acknowledge the legitimacy of testimony of women, secular Jews and gentiles. That they view bringing legal disputes before the state civil courts favorably. That they respect the values of the State of Israel, as they are expressed in our Declaration of Independence, including freedom of religion and conscience. It is highly doubtful that a candidate for judgeship who sincerely identifies with these core values would be labeled “Haredi,” but without this his/her appointment to a judicial post would not mend the judicial system, but rather seriously corrupt it. This would not add to the strength of Israel’s judiciary, but would be tantamount to bringing a Trojan horse into its Holy of Holies.
The author, a rabbi, heads Hiddush – For Religious Freedom & Equality.