Rabbi Yisrael Yifrah - Kikar Hashabat - May 15, 2012
Rabbi Yisrael Yifrah. Photo by Kikar Hashabat
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A rabbinical judge who has been accused of bribery and refusing to compel abusive husbands to grant their wives a divorce has recently been appointed head of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court, one of the country's largest and most important Jewish religious courts.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar appointed Rabbi Yisrael Yifrah to the post despite receiving complaints about Yifrah that had prompted him to remove the rabbi from the list of candidates for the Great Rabbinical Court.

The head of a rabbinical court is roughly equivalent to district court president in the regular judicial system, the highest level one can reach below the Supreme Court.

Amar's associates said the appointment was made after he discussed the allegations with Yifrah and apprised judicial ombudsman Eliezer Goldberg, a retired Supreme Court justice, of the matter.

The complaints Amar received included one from a woman who accused Yifrah, a veteran Jerusalem rabbinical court judge who has headed a regional rabbinical court for many years, of humiliating her when she asked for her divorce case to be heard in front of a different panel.

Mavoi Satum (Dead End ), an advocacy group that helps women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce, says it has received complaints and "evidence-based testimony" indicating that Yifrah has committed extortion, asked for and offered bribes, and refused to compel divorce even in cases involving domestic violence or rape. The organization made the accusations in a letter it sent to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

An investigative report last year by the religious newspaper Makor Rishon said Yifrah recommended that a woman who had been living in a shelter for abused women reconcile with her husband, who had previously been convicted of domestic violence, instead of pressing him to grant a divorce.

Yifrah has denied the accusations made against him. The director general of the rabbinical courts said in a statement that Yifrah is an "esteemed and experienced rabbinical judge who is an expert in halakha [religious law]."

There is no civil marriage or divorce under Israeli law, and Jewish law requires the consent of both spouses before granting a divorce.