Secret Deal Between Religious Parties Could Fill Empty Seats on Rabbinical Court

Rabbinical Court Judges Appointment Committee scheduled to meet to select four new judges for Rabbinical High Court.

The Rabbinical Court Judges Appointment Committee is scheduled to meet today to select four new judges for the Rabbinical High Court. The panel, chaired by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, is to make its choice based on an agreement among the religious political parties.

Committee members had promised to keep the deal a secret until the meeting, for fear it would fall through if leaked. But Haaretz has learned that one of the leading candidates is an unknown rabbinical court judge, or dayan.

Rabbi Gideon Shiryon of Be'er Sheva was put forward as a last-minute compromise candidate by the Sephardic Chief Rabbi and President of the Rabbinical High Court, Shlomo Amar.

Shiryon, who is of Yemenite descent, will presumably be appointed as a compromise with Neeman, who wants new appointments to strictly maintain the court's ethnic-religious balance, with three representatives from each of the three main groups in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox world: Sephardi ultra-Orthodox, Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox and national-religious.

The Sephardi candidate is apparently Rabbi Yitzhak Almaliah, who sits on the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court.

About 25 dayanim have applied for the four open positions.

The candidate considered most likely to be named to the Ashkenazi Haredi slot is Rabbi Nahum Prawer, although women's groups have fought the choice.

A fourth candidate, Rabbi Eliezer Igra, is from the national-religious camp. Some Haredi groups have taken issue with his selection but have agreed to accept him over candidates they like even less.

Neeman's desire to maintain the balance of streams and to achieve consensus before the vote led him to cancel meetings of the appointments committee on three occasions.

In the previous round of Rabbinical High Court appointments, in August 2007, Shas also brought in Yemenites who are Shas supporters - rabbis Tzion Boaron, Zion Algrabli and Menachem Hashai.

Shas explained at the time that Hashai was being put forward not as a Sephardi but rather as a Yemenite, whose voice was needed because of differences in the way the Yemenite Jewish community interprets Jewish law.

Rabbi Hashai, whose work on the bench was highly praised, died a year ago.

Haaretz has learned that many complaints have been lodged against Shiryon, mainly about for tardiness and unexplained absences from work. A few years ago these led Amar to summon him to a hearing.

Prawer has the support of the spiritual leader of United Torah Judaism, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Women's groups, including Mavoi Satum, which advocates for women who have been denied divorces; the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, and the International Coalition for Agunot (women who have been denied divorce ), object to his candidacy. Their opposition is based mainly on Prawer's use of an ancient ruling that allowing men to set economic terms before granting their wives a divorce.

Igra, like Shiryon a dayan from Be'er Sheva, received approval from Shas and United Torah Judaism after extensive negotiations with the national-religious representative on the appointment committee, MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima ). The other groups accepted Igra grudgingly as the lesser evil in comparison to the national-religious candidate Rabbi Uriel Lavi of Tiberias, whom they consider too independent.