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Theocratic Surge in Israeli Courts

From Haaretz:

Fifteen judges were appointed to rabbinic courts Monday by a committee headed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann.

…The identities of the judges was determined before the committee met, in a deal between the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party and the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox, committee members told Haaretz. Twelve of the 15 judges are considered ultra-Orthodox.

…For the past four years, the eight-member selection committee was split equally among representatives of the ultra-Orthodox camp and representatives of the religious Zionist camp and the Israel Bar Association. But when the current government took office, MK Yitzhak Vaknin of Shas was appointed to the committee, giving the ultra-Orthodox a majority.

This is a big deal because rabbinic courts in Israel are part of the state apparatus, dealing with civil matters for Jewish Israelis such as marriage and divorce. An article on a Reform Judaism website from last December gives further details:

Under Israeli law, an individual may only be married in accordance with the procedures of his religious community. Thus, Jews may only be married through the Orthodox rabbinate. Since the rabbinate implements religious law – Halacha – Jews may not marry non-Jews and a kohen may not marry a divorcee.

With several hundred thousand halachically non-Jewish Russian immigrants in Israel (who are nonetheless entitled to rights under the Law of Return), the number of couples who wish to wed in Israel, but may not, is increasing.

Even more problematic are the pesulei hitun – “non-marriables” – the child born to a Jewish mother conceived from an adulterous union or even to a Jewish mother who was divorced (abroad) in a civil proceeding but never received a get. Such a child is a mamzer and essentially may never marry at all.

The only relief available to those wishing to contract religiously unlawful marriages and to the “non-marriables” is to be married in a civil ceremony outside of Israel, which is recognized by Israel under its private international law commitments, but not recognized by Halacha.

It’s also bad news for women seeking a divorce from non-compliant husbands, as Haaretz notes:

Women’s rights organizations said Monday was a black day in the struggle for women’s rights in the rabbinic courts. Many view the rabbinic courts as favoring men in divorce cases and as failing to do enough to minimize the problem of women whose husbands refuse to divorce them.

And, as noted above, there’s the small matter of hundreds of thousands of Israeli immigrants whose Jewish status is under dispute – which is a bit of an embarrassment for a country which constantly claims that any accommodation of Palestinian refugees would undermine the Jewish character of the state, and that therefore anyone who dares to suggest such a thing must be anti-Semitic.

Haaretz believes that this will all prove to be too much:

The religious establishment must understand that all of society, religious and secular, refuses to knuckle under to discrimination and injustice. However, all the signs – especially the political wheeling-dealing power balance – indicate that this process will not take place spontaneously.

Therefore the public had better draw clear conclusions from the last appointments, demand pluralism and free choice in religious services and do without the religious establishment, thus pushing it into its appropriate place. The time is fast approaching for the silent majority in Israel, both religious and secular, to demand, by public and political pressure, to break up the ultra-Orthodox monopoly and cancel its affiliation with the state.

Apparently, the new judges are followers of the elderly Torah-sage Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

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