High Court to Void Temporary Appointments to Chief Rabbinical Court

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Israel's Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (L) and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau.Credit: Moti Milrod

The High Court of Justice has made good on its threat and informed the Chief Rabbinical Court that all of its temporary appointments will be voided in less than a month from now.

This means that if by July 15 the Committee for Appointing Rabbinic Judges (Dayanim), headed by Minister Yuval Steinitz, is unable to reach any agreement, the rabbinical court’s appeals panel will be left with just three dayanim – the two chief rabbis, who sit just one or two days a week, and one more full-time dayan who was sworn in last week. The Committee for Appointing Rabbinic Judges, which has been at an impasse due to political disputes between Habayit Hayehudi and the ultra-Orthodox parties, is due to meet again next week.

Tuesday’s High Court ruling comes after the justices had threatened a number of times to void the temporary appointments. Political divisions have prevented the appointments committee from naming dayanim to fill six vacant positions.

As dayanim have retired from the rabbinical court over the years and new ones have not been appointed, the courts are now largely manned by dayanim borrowed from regional courts. The judges with temporary appointments are named by Court President Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, without the committee’s involvement, which has been quite controversial. High Court Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Uri Shoham and Menachem Mazuz ruled that these appointments would become invalid next month.

To be properly selected, a candidate for dayan must win the support of at least seven of the nine committee members. For years, the committee has been unable to reach sufficient agreement to appoint new rabbinic judges. The most recent attempt was in May. The non-Haredi majority in the committee did manage to approve, by a single vote, the appointment of one dayan: Rabbi Eliezer Igra, who is identified with religious Zionism. He was sworn in by President Reuven Rivlin last week.

The timetable set by the High Court ostensibly gives the committee’s non-Haredi bloc an opportunity to try to use its slim majority to get dayanim appointed who are to its liking. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s ability to advance the appointments of religious Zionist dayanim will be tested, particularly in the case of Rabbi Uriel Lavi, a senior dayan whose appointment has hitherto been vetoed by Chief Rabbi Yosef and Interior Minister Arye Dery due to a 2014 ruling of his that freed an agunah to remarry. Another proposal on the table is to reach general agreement on filling the six vacancies on the Chief Rabbinical Court and a number of vacancies on the regional rabbinical courts. For a long time, Habayit Hayehudi has been trying to get three dayanim associated with the modern Orthodox Tzohar organization appointed, but its efforts have been thwarted by Shas and United Torah Judaism.

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