Women to Join Committee for Appointing Israel's Rabbinical Judges

Knesset passes bill demanding at least four women on 11-member committee, which, for years, was comprised of men only.

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The Knesset plenum passed on Tuesday a bill requiring that women be represented on a committee responsible for appointing Israel's rabbinical judges.

The legislation, which ensures that at least four women sit on the panel, was approved in second and third readings during a tumultuous Knesset session that began on Monday night and concluded in the early hours of Tuesday.

Each of the Knesset's ultra-Orthodox members presented reservations over the bill, with many lawmakers taking advantage of the half-hour time slot they were allotted on the floor to voice their objections in an attempt at a filibuster.

The committee tasked with naming rabbinical judges has up until now consisted of ten members: the justice minister (who chairs the panels), another government minister, two Knesset members, Israel's two chief rabbis, two judges from the Supreme Rabbinical Court and two representatives of the Bar Association. During the previous parliamentary term, the panel was all-male.

As per the new law, the committee will be expanded to 11 members, and will include at least four women: a minister, a Knesset member, a representative of the Bar Association and a rabbinical advocate appointed by the justice minister.

"The new law mends the twisted reality in which men are the only ones deciding on issues that mainly influence the lives of women," said MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz), who led the legislation alongside Knesset members Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) and Shuli Moalem (Habayit Hayehudi).

Last week, the Knesset chose its two representatives on the panel: MK Moalem, who represents the coalition, and MK Eli Yishai (Shas) of the opposition. Yishai defeated MK Merav Michaeli (Labor), who also contended for the spot. The ultra-Orthodox factions remain well-represented in the committee; the two officials from the Bar Association who were appointed to the panel are backed by the Haredim.

This legislation is the first bill proposed by individual Knesset members to be passed during the current parliamentary session.

According to MK Lavie, the law is a major step toward eliminating discrimination against women in the rabbinical court system.

The legislation "will lead to the appointment of rabbinical judges who are more moderate, more in tune, and are better integrated within the Israeli society of 2013," she said.

"This is another landmark in the long road toward the proper integration of women in public committees and decision-making agencies."

In 2011, Haaretz uncovered a backroom deal, which guaranteed attorney Yuri Guy-Ron the Haredi sector's support in his bid to become Bar Association chairman, if he agreed to violate the association's commitment to appoint a woman to the committee. As a result of the exposé, Knesset committees held discussions on the issue and a petition was submitted to the High Court of Justice, eventually leading to the proposal of the law.

Due to the process, the committee suspended its activity in 2011, resulting in a shortage of rabbinical judges.  

Zahava Gal-On at the Knesset. Credit: Emil Salman

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