Calls by MK (Yahadut HaTorah) R’ Moshe Gafne to expand the authority of the nation’s rabbinical courts have resulted in sharp criticism from many who oppose the move, including the Rackman Center – The Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women’s Status, affiliated with Bar Ilan University’s Faculty of Law. The center’s leaders fear that such a move would lead to “further trampling the rights of women” in the rabbinical courts, and therefore, such a move must be avoided.
What is at stake is a bill intended to permit citizens of Israel to decide, to adjudicate matters in the civil courts as is the case today, or alternatively, one may opt to take a case to the rabbinical court system and the matter may be decided by dayanim in accordance to Torah law.
Gafne’s bill intends to permit those who wish to adjudicate matters in a religious court in line with halacha, but this is meeting with more than a small voice of protest.
The bill, co-sponsored by Gafne and MK (Yahadut HaTorah) R’ Uri Maklev, intends to significantly expand the scope of the authority of the rabbinical judicial system in Israel. It would permit hearing civil cases in addition to religious marriage and divorce, already approved areas of rabbinic judicial authority.
In essence, it appears the bill permits one to opt for either judicial system, civil or religious, but not all agree, indicating if approved, the bill would further complicate the lives of many, including agunot who are already chained by the rabbinical courts according to many advocating on their behalf. Feminist organizations, the Rackman Center, the Reform Movement and others fear that passing the bill into law would further “trample” the rights of women in Eretz Yisrael, warning this cannot be permitted to occur, calling on MKs to oppose it when voted upon in Knesset.
Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, the director-general of the nation’s rabbinical courts joined MK (Labor) Prof, Yuli Tamir on Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) Monday morning, speaking with host Razi Barkai.
Barkai: Shas and Yahadut HaTorah maintain the overcrowded situation existing in the nation’s court system is a compelling factor towards support to take advantage of the parallel system that exists, the rabbinical court system, stating the bill should be approved, permitting everyone to use either court system.
Tamir: This is indeed absurd. If there is a problem with too many cases then we must add justices. What they are really trying to do is change the status quo, and Labor “will stand on its hind legs to prevent this”. They are heading to anarchy with two systems of law operating. A person who does not approve of a ruling will run to the other system seeking a new verdict.
Barkai: But in reality, this exists for many years in cases of divorce and child custody.
Tamir: This is true and we have and will continue to fight to take some of that authority away regarding child custody, to place this in the hands of the civil courts. Now, they are trying to divide the State of Israel into two, two judicial systems, and anyone can pick the system they like. This will be a final blow and certainly divide the nation into two distinct different populations, each opting for its own laws and judgment. Such a move is totally unacceptable and the concept is so dangerous, it is difficult to accept that someone actually is standing behind such an idea, seeking to pass it into law.
Dahan: I am sorry to hear the grade that she gave the system. I am pained because her comments are simply not to the point. For 55 years the custom has been that if neighbors dispute regarding a neighborly issue, a balcony or with a contractor; they had the option to take this matter for arbitration in a rabbinical court. This was reality for 55 years and low and behold, we did not split into two, there is no anarchy and the nation is not divided.
Statistically speaking, this represented about 0.5% of the total number of cases brought before the rabbinical court system. There are over 80,000 cases in the rabbinical court system annually, and about 500 of those cases address civil matters, dealing with two parties who opted to bring their dispute to the rabbis, not the civil courts, and the state did not collapse.
Barkai: So what happened?
Dahan: Four-and-a-half years ago, High Court Justice [Ayala] Procaccia decided to change the status quo, stating there is no legal status permitting rabbinical courts to address civil matters. If the lawmakers wish this to be the case, the proper legislation is demanded. The court did not say it opposes it, or that it is contraindicated, but the court simply stated the there is a hole in the law that demands a legislative repair.
Barkai: Why after 55 years did the High Court suddenly decide to make such an announcement?
Dahan: Your question is in place. This is why many legal experts in the nation questioned the ruling as well, seeking to understand what prompted the court to make such a statement at this time. Nevertheless, this was the court’s prerogative.
Tamir: I listened long enough and I must correct a number of inaccuracies. In fact, there were cases in which people agreed to seek the rabbinical court as a measure of compromise, feeling they did not need the weight of the law and permitting the rabbis to adjudicate the matter would lead to a solution. This was done with the understanding that such a ruling was not bound by state law.
Such rulings did not carry the same weight as a [civil] court ruling. Now they are trying to change all of this, seeking to give the rabbinical court decisions the same legal weight as the civil courts. That is why to date the numbers were low. While it was not proper, it was insignificant.
Barkai: I am now inviting another guest to join, someone who has been tied up in your court system Rabbi Ben-Dahan for a number of years, a woman who is unable to obtain a get from her husband. Her name s Aliza Pe’er.
Shalom Aliza. You are 45, living in Rishon L’Tzion, and the mother of six. You were married for 27 years and how long are you waiting for a get.
Aliza: Correct. I am in the court since 2002, waiting for a get.
Barkai: Tell me about the process in the rabbinical court, eight years.
Aliza: I would like to point out that I adjudicated all matters except for the get itself in the family court, wishing to avoid the foot-dragging we hear about, and the get of course in the rabbinical court. I have been there since 2002. I wished to avoid what I perceived would be an incorrect decision regarding the property and the children.
Barkai: Are you chareidi?
Aliza: I was more chareidi [in the marriage]. The lack of justice in the court however has really pushed me to a different place. In truth, he is willing to give a get, but always with strings attached. He either demands more money or property. That is exactly why I filed in the family court for those matters.
Barkai: Do the rabbis just accept your husband’s position or do they compel him to give you the divorce.
Aliza: They instruct him to do so, but they do not really enforce it. They compelled him to do so a number of times, but they don’t enforce it. They give me the runaround with the Supreme Court to accept their position. They simply wish to break me, to compel me to give in and when I did, the case continued dragging for weeks and months. Once I realized I would not get the divorce I filed a suit requesting damages, at least to get something.
Barkai: Rabbi Ben-Dahan, you heard the allegations and we all know she is not the only case. There is a growing voice of women who simply are chained by the rabbinical court system. In actuality, the authority of the rabbinical courts has elicited an outcry from many a women’s organization with shouts of discrimination.
Dahan: First of all, I am sorry that you did not even bother to tell me her name a day in advance, believe I would have the facts in the case, the real facts.
Barkai: How do you know?
Dahan: I will explain. She says things that simply are not making sense. What nonsense to state the rabbinical court compelled her to go to the Supreme Court? She is simply saying things that are not true.
Barkai: Rabbi Dahan, forget all of this. The woman wants a get, to be divorced. Eight years she is waiting!
Dahan: If you would have handled this honestly and logically, believe me, I would have provided you with all the details. It is most unfortunate however that you decided to handle things as you are. I am willing, if you are, to permit me the opportunity to return tomorrow morning, at which time I will give you all the details in the case. If you really want to hear the events, then permit me to present the facts, all the facts, the entire picture.
Barkai: First of all, I will provide you with all the women’s details. Secondly, this is one case in a mountain of cases, many cases, in which it is clear as day that the rabbinical courts are foot-dragging, keeping these women chained.
Dahan: Who are you to make such accusation? How do you know? On what authority do you say this? You are simply making accusations without any authority or the facts. Do you have a clue how many couples receive a divorce each year.
Barkai: It is not totally clear.
Dahan: [interrupts] No, it is not clear to you!
Barkai: A women who wants a divorce – aren’t you compelled to complete this within a month to two?
Dahan: Excuse me. Is this how it is done in other courts too? Do you have any idea how long it takes to divide property and deal with family members. Are you aware a Knesset committee probed the rabbinical courts and secular courts and found in the rabbinical courts to be more effective than the secular courts?
Barkai: Do you want six months, a half year, a year perhaps? Eight years and she is waiting!
Dahan: I don’t want a thing. Listen – I want you to tell me the details of the file a day in advance.
Aliza: I will happily provide all my details.
Dahan: Ma’am, listen, there are case handled expeditiously. Let me finish. Some are handled in a day or two, some two months, each according to its needs. I can tell you that 96% of the cases are closed within four months in the rabbinical courts.
Barkai: Rabbi Ben-Dahan, please let her respond.
Aliza: Razi, if you permit me – i will remind R’ Dahan that a year ago he described me as a ‘chronic complainer’. (Dahan interrupts – “now I remember you”). After he checked with the dayanim (R’ Dahan continues interrupting) in the case he concluded I am a chronic and constant complainer because my husband threatened to throw a caustic substance in my face, spit at me and threatened to kill me. He made a number of threats against me and my attorney as well. Now, suddenly, he wishes to tell me ‘oh yes, I remember the case’.
Dahan: Oh yes, indeed, now I remember the case. Now I remember.
Back and forth interruptions as host Barkai seeks to maintain order on the air.
Aliza: They made me go to the police to file my complaints regarding the threats.
Dahan: It was not me who sent you to police. There is a letter from police…
Aliza: What do you want from me?
Barkai: Okay both of you, enough. MK Tamir what do you have to say at this point?
Tamir: There can be no doubt that in some cases, the court is dragging for if not, we would not be faced with the issue of agunot. In the State of Israel today however, there is the problem of agunot and there is much injustice.
This case however is the extreme and indicative of what will occur since it already occurs today and the bill, if passed into law, will result in discrimination against women far exceeding what is taking place today.
This will become a question addressing the principle of the matter and beyond this — Rabbi Ben-Dahan is unable to give a true response. If I went to a civil court and you to a rabbinical court, both emerging with different rulings, which ruling will prevail?
Barkai: The bill presented addresses going to adjudicate in a rabbinical court when both parties agree so your concerns are not the issue here.
Dahan: (Interrupts shouting “and it does not deal with a husband and wife at all”)
Barkai: Ravi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, one moment please.
Tamir: In the chareidi world there is no such thing. If a wife does not wish to go the rabbinical court or even if the man is the case, the social pressure is too great and people will not have free will.
Such a person, refusing to go to a beis din, will be ousted from the community, placed in niddui, in the community, shul and wherever. Their children will be ousted from schools and the trend will result in much anguish over such a dispute.
Dahan: Then why wasn’t this the case for the last 55 years. There was a minhag and it was fine, people had the option.
Tamir: Correct, because it was a minhag, and not compulsory.
Dahan: No one was aware it was not law. They agreed and went and there were no problems.
Barkai: Thank you all. The Ministerial Legislative Committee has to rule on this as the moment we hear something, we will give a report on the air.
What is evident is the fact that the power struggle between secular law and Torah law is in full force in Eretz Yisrael, as the civil courts challenge kashrus and giyur decisions issued by rabbonim. Hundreds of rabbonim have met in Eilat, taking part in a kenos (http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=46640), but this year, focusing on the state challenge to rabbinical rulings and seeking to impose new restrictions of civil service rabbonim.
(Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel)