Rabbinical Court Proves Subservience to ultra-Orthodox

Recent ruling relates to the important question of the source of the rabbinical courts' authority.

A decision published on Monday by the High Rabbinical Court exposes how the state's official rabbinical courts view themselves as subject to the decisions of ultra-Orthodox rabbis and leaders of the Haredi public.

"All the Jewish people view them," referring to the ultra-Orthodox rabbis in the decision, "as appropriate and authorized to instruct the Jewish people, and all the Jewish people are subject to their decisions to do what they teach and not to stray from their teachings," wrote the rabbinical court in its ruling.

The ruling was handed down by a three-judge panel of dayanim (religious court judges) headed by Rabbi Avraham Sherman, who last year nullified all conversions performed by the state's religious conversion court system headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman. Sherman's ruling on conversions is now being considered by the High Court of Justice.

Yesterday's ruling came in another conversion case, of a couple from the Tel Aviv area. The decision, made a month and a half ago but only published yesterday, related to an appeal by the woman, who the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court ordered to be divorced from her husband, and that property matters in the case would only be heard at a later time. During the divorce proceedings doubts were raised as to whether the woman was actually Jewish, as she had converted before her marriage.

The High Rabbinical Court, the highest of the official state Jewish religious courts, decided to not recognize the woman's conversion - even though she had accepted Orthodox Jewish religious practice when she converted. There were also doubts as to the husband's Jewishness. Even though all these issues cast a doubt on whether halakha, Jewish religious law, requires the couple to divorce, the court decided to follow the strictest interpretations and force them to divorce.

At the same time, the couple and their children will be placed on the rabbinate's blacklist of those who have restrictions on who they may marry - which effectively prevents them from marrying in the future through the rabbinate.

Most halakhic decisors over the generations have ruled that religious courts ("batei din") do not have the authority to overrule other rabbinical courts, but Rabbi Sherman and the two other dayanim in the case, Rabbi Haggai Izrir and Rabbi Zion Algrabli, preferred the more conservative position of modern ultra-Orthodox decisors. That is the main innovation of the present decision, which relates to the important question of the source of the rabbinical courts' authority.

The 35-page judgment, with the words "The State of Israel" at the top of every page, gives a clear answer: ultra-Orthodox rabbis. The decision also places the leading rabbi of the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox faction, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, at the top of the pyramid.

The ruling stated that all the Jewish People, including rabbis and dayanim, are subject to the rulings of the great ultra-Orthodox decisors.

As opposed to the regular format of rabbinical court decisions, Rabbi Sherman did not settle for quotes from previous rabbinic rulings, but instead quoted extensively letters and opinions of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis he follows, who oppose the present Israeli system of conversions.