Trying to get your day in (rabbinical) court

A new phone system doesn't solve the rabbinical court system's basic problem: the lack of human contact.

hands wedding ring 88 (photo credit: )
hands wedding ring 88
(photo credit: )
'In principle, the rolling out of a computerized phone system for the rabbinical courts last week should have been something that many Israelis would celebrate. With more than thousands of files opened each year, the rabbinical courts should have been embarrassed eons ago by the countless hours wasted by individuals who needed basic information and received no reply. The old phone system generated frustration, anguish and no small amount of despair among Israelis waiting to be married and divorced. And the new system does provide a schedule of when the rabbinical courts are open, their fees, and their locations. But, alas, technology also has its shortcomings. To enter the new system, one needs a code, though it is unclear where one exactly receives such a code. (If one receives a code when opening a file, then how does one find out how to open a file?) In addition, there is no personal attention given to the client, only a "smart system" which theoretically identifies the needs of the caller and provides the information. The system, at present, only seems to identify Hebrew (with the correct accent of course). ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Center, an organization which attempts to help Israelis navigate the labyrinths of the rabbinic bureaucracy, tried to reach the Ashkelon rabbinic court four times through the automated and centralized system but eventually gave up (after being disconnected or being transferred to Netanya). BUT THE essential problem of the system is the lack of human contact. The rabbinical courts have often been accused of not being user-friendly. Unfortunately, rather than investing in human resources, the courts have determined that the best way to help individuals is to eliminate the human side altogether. If you wish to speak to someone in a particular rabbinical court, the system informs you that you should send a fax to a specific number and someone will return your call. This "system," which is not part of the general court telephone system, further enhances the public's sense that the rabbinical courts are out to service their own interests, rather than the general good. It should be added that many members of the rabbinic establishment were not made aware of the elimination of local numbers for rabbinical courts and these clerks continue to distribute the non-working numbers of the regional courts, rather than the centralized number. In order to help alleviate the deleterious effects of the new system on the public, ITIM has published on its website ( the cellular phone numbers of the secretaries of each of the regional clerks. Individuals seeking information that cannot be accessed in the centralized system are invited to turn directly to the regional court in this manner. But this is only a short term solution. Ultimately, rabbinical courts need to focus on better human relations, not simply efficiency. Until those who populate the offices of the rabbinical courts are trained properly, even the most technologically sophisticated system is destined to heighten the disenfranchisement Israelis feel toward the rabbinate. The writer is the director of ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Center and the rabbi of Kehilat Netivot in Raanana.