Government Opposes Appointment of Women as Sharia Judges to Avoid Setting Precedent for Rabbinic Courts

Despite Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked's support for the legislation, the government will oppose it due to concerns from ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.
Olivier Fitoussi

The government intends to oppose a draft bill for female judicial participation in Sharia courts, due to concern among ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition that supporting the bill would create a precedent that could be applied to rabbinical courts.

Proposed by Knesset members Issawi Freige (Meretz), Zuhair Bahloul (Zionist Union) and Aida Tuma (Joint Arab List), the bill will be voted on today in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. It provides for at least one female representative among the kadis (judges) serving on the courts that rule according to Islamic law.

Eleven male kadis currently serve on both the regional Sharia courts and the appeal court. The bill was placed on the agenda of the ministerial committee a few months ago in an attempt to mobilize support.

Despite the support of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and other members of the committee, the government will accede to the demand by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) that it oppose the bill. LItzman threatened that the UTJ and Shas would use the right of veto on matters of religion-and-state granted to them in the coalition agreements if the government failed to toe the line.

Freige, who serves as a member of the committee that appoints kadis, told Haaretz that only the opposition of the Haredi parties would prevent the appointment of a woman to the courts.

“Litzman is casting a veto; he doesn’t want it to constitute a precedent in spite of the fact that Islam permits it,” Freige said. “So I’m a captive in the hands of the Jews. And all the talk of gender equality suddenly disappears when it comes to Arabs.

“As opposed to the support we received from the ministers, headed by Ayelet Shaked, the religious MKs vetoed it and said that according to the coalition agreement they have a veto on religious issues. They’re also using their veto for Muslim affairs, for fear that tomorrow it will serve as a precedent in the rabbinical courts.”

Three members of Tuma’s faction in the Joint List, Ra’am-Ta’al, are also opposed to the draft bill. At the request the law’s initiators, the Knesset Research and Information Center compiled a survey of the situation in Muslim countries regarding the appointment of women. It transpired that women already serve in Sharia courts in a number of countries, including two female kadis in the Palestinian Authority.

Sources in United Torah Judaism confirmed the findings of the report, but stressed their concern that a precedent in the Sharia courts would affect future decisions on filling rabbinical positions. “On this matter, UTJ is cooperating with the Muslim MKs who oppose the initiative,” they said.

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud), chairman of the committee that appoints rabbinical court judges, said in October that he hoped to see women serving as dayanim on state-sponsored rabbinical courts.