Women’s Group Takes Rabbinic Judge’s Appointment to Israel's Top Court

Supreme Rabbinical Court names rabbi reprimanded for corruption and another questionable clergyman as judges to decide family cases.

Moti Milrod

The Supreme Rabbinical Court’s newest appointees include one rabbinical judge who was reprimanded for corruption and another who is on record saying that in a divorce involving a religious and a nonreligious parent, the religious parent should get custody of the kids.

The first, Rabbi Yitzhak Almaliah, once headed a panel of the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court that deceived a mentally impaired woman into divorcing her husband unwittingly at the instigation of the husband’s relatives. The judicial ombudsman reprimanded him for this, but didn’t seek his dismissal.

Mavoi Satum, an organization that helps women whose husbands refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce, plans to petition the High Court of Justice on Thursday against his appointment, which was promoted by the Shas party and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.

The second controversial appointee is Rabbi Eliyahu Rafael Heishrick. In an interview with the ultra-Orthodox weekly Mishpacha in 2009, when he was serving on the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court, he said that in a divorce involving one parent who isn’t religious and one who is, custody should be granted to the religious parent.

“When a question arises over who will educate the children, in a case where one party is secular and the other is religious, then the ruling is self-evident,” he said. “It’s clear that the children must be educated by the parent who observes the religious commandments. We need to protect the child’s soul, to ensure that he gets a Torah education.”

The problem, Heishrick continued, is that if a rabbinical court were to say this explicitly, the secular parent could petition the High Court, “and the next morning, the court would overturn it. That isn’t even a question. So what do you do? You need to write the same things and ultimately reach the same situation that you’ve marked out earlier. You say [the child] needs to be with his father, without mentioning Shabbat and skullcaps. You find another reason, and such reasons aren’t lacking.”

“Every ruling can be written in a way that will be acceptable even to the High Court justices,” he concluded. “The terminology carries great weight here.”

Heishrick, whose candidacy was promoted by Agudat Yisrael, the Hasidic wing of the United Torah Judaism party, has been nominated for the Supreme Rabbinical Court several times before over the course of his almost two decades as a dayan. But his promotion became possible only this week, as part of a package deal among the members of the Committee for Appointing Dayanim. 

Under this deal, the panel appointed nine new dayanim to the Supreme Rabbinical Court on Tuesday.

In his interview with Mishpacha, Heishrick also said that if the civil courts could, they would abolish the rabbinical court system. “They’d wipe it off the map,” he said.

“There are two parallel justice systems here, and that’s something that doesn’t exist in other countries,” he explained. “Only here, in our country, is there a secular justice system and a religious justice system side by side. And when there are certain things we don’t let them touch, that hurts them even more.”