The chutzpah of the ultra-Orthodox parties knows no bounds: It is not enough that they represent a public that participates in neither military service, the workforce - at least when it comes to most of the men - and the education system's core curriculum, they also have no qualms about demanding a foothold in the world of Israel's non-Haredi majority.
Now, for instance, the Haredim are seeking to expand the rabbinical courts' authority on financial and administrative issues related to divorce (for instance, custody arrangements), instead of making do with authority to grant the divorce. And for some reason, his denials to the contrary, the religious Zionist justice minister, Yaakov Neeman, is actually willing to at least "consider" this new demand - even though many of his religious Zionist compatriots have a serious bone to pick with the way the rabbinical courts conduct themselves.
As for the merits of this proposal: The formal justification for this Haredi demand is that these issues always used to be within the rabbinical courts' authority, until the High Court of Justice deprived them of it. Therefore, they are merely seeking to restore the status quo. But authority over issues ancillary to a divorce was never assigned to the rabbinical courts by law: If it had been, there would be no need for new legislation on this issue.
From the start, this was an encroachment by the rabbinical courts. The High Court did not deprive them of this power as part of a jurisdictional battle between the two court systems, but rather because the rabbinical courts have acquired a particularly bad reputation for their treatment of litigants - and particularly their treatment of women.
It is indeed necessary to alter the status of the rabbinical courts, but in the opposite direction of what the Haredim are demanding, and what the justice minister has promised to consider. The proper direction is complete abolition of the rabbinical courts' monopoly over marriage and divorce, while instead legalizing any marriage procedure that reflects couples' free and genuine desires.
Religious circles - and on this matter, the religious Zionist establishment agrees with the Haredim - justify their demand for a monopoly on marriage and divorce (a demand that predates the state) by the need to preserve "the unity of the nation." Their argument is that unless everyone marries according to religious law, descendants of those who married in a religious ceremony would not be able to wed the descendants of those who married in some other fashion.
But the Haredim, and especially the Ashkenazi Haredim, keep detailed genealogy records in any case, and are generally unwilling to marry their children to religious Zionists, or even Sephardi Haredim.
Moreover, the need to maintain the state's Jewish character cannot justify all means. It does justify state intervention in the character of the public square - for instance, by banning commerce and public transportation on Shabbat, or prohibiting the public sale of chametz (leavened bread) on Pesach. It also justifies giving national symbols, like the flag and the anthem, a Jewish character. But it cannot justify intervening in an individual's private life.
Therefore, just as even the most zealous Haredim would not dare (at least for now; who knows what the future will hold?) to demand the right supervise the kashrut of food eaten in private homes, or force people to circumcise their sons, even if this is also very important for "the unity of the nation," there is no legitimacy to their demand that the religious establishment intervene in how a couple celebrates one of the most intimate and meaningful moments of their life - marriage - or, alternatively, in the painful process by which they choose to separate.
In short, the rabbinical courts' control over marriage and divorce must end.
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