Israeli Lawmaker Vows to Torpedo Bill Granting Rabbinate 'ISIS-like' Power Over Diaspora Jews

'If the bill passes, there will be two bodies in the world that claim to have international jurisdiction on religious matters – the chief rabbinate, and ISIS,' says lawmaker

Yisrael Beiteinu MKs Yulia Melinovsky, left, and Avigdor Lieberman in the Knesset in 2016.
יצחק הררי / דוברות

The Yisrael Beiteinu party, headed by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, vowed on Wednesday to torpedo a bill giving the Israeli rabbinical courts power over non-Israeli Jews.

The bill would authorize the courts to issue arrest warrants in connection with divorce cases, whether or not the couple married through the rabbis or courts, and to issue restraining orders preventing people from leaving the country.

“We will not let this bill pass,” said Yulia Melinovsky of Israel Beiteinu during a discussion at the Knesset’s Constitution Committee. She asserted the bill contravened coalition agreements, as well as agreements from the previous Knesset. “Broadening the powers of the rabbinical court to encompass judging Jewish matters abroad, even if their marriage were civil, is illogical and badly hurts our relations with Diaspora Jewry,” Melinovsky said, predicting that the rabbinical court could expand to investigating the Judaism of non-Israeli Jews as well – widening their blacklists.

“If the bill passes, there will be two bodies in the world that claim to have international jurisdiction on religious matters – the chief rabbinate, and ISIS,” Melinovsky said.

Her party colleague Oded Forer commented that the law “is full of holes, like Swiss cheese,” and contravenes coalition agreements.

MK Rachel Azaria said her party, Kulanu, also opposes the bill. “We are creating a gratuitous conflict with Diaspora Jews instead of holding dialogue,” she added.

The legal counsels of the Knesset’s Constitution committee criticized the intention of applying the law to civil marriages as well.

In March, after the uproar surrounding the conscription law, all the coalition factions agreed not to advance bills on state and religion, including bills that had already come up for debate in the Knesset.

Michael Michaeli of Shas begged his colleagues to relax and called on them to stop the debate of hate against the rabbinate. MK Michal Rozin of Meretz said that they just want to assure that a solution is found for women who are chained to their marriges (agunot) because their husbands won't grant them a religious divorce. The rabbinical court system does not treat women equally, she said, adding that women could be extorted in order to agree to divorce. Rozin added that people who married in one country shouldn’t have to undergo religious divorce in a different one.

Representatives of the rabbinical court administration said they agree to split the bill and separately promote the sections empowering the rabbinical courts regarding couples who underwent religious marriage, and ones who underwent a civil process.

Eliahu Maimon, manager of the courts’ agunot division, said these are tough cases and the bill would help dozens of agunot a year.