Justice Minister Pushes Bill to Extend Rabbinical Courts' Authority

Bill stems from verbal promises that Netanyahu's Likud Party made to Shas during coalition negotiations.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is moving forward with a government bill that would significantly expand the rabbinical courts' authority.

Under the bill, the rabbinical courts would have sole authority to hear any suit stemming from divorce agreements signed in a rabbinical court, including both financial and custody disputes. Currently, suits stemming from a divorce agreement must be filed in civil court, so the bill would essentially transfer this power from the civil to the rabbinical courts.

The Justice Ministry is also considering giving rabbinical courts sole authority to hear suits against husbands who refuse to grant their wives a divorce, thus depriving these women of their current right to file such suits in civil court.

The bill stems from verbal promises that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party made to Shas during the coalition negotiations. It is now in the final stages of being drafted, after which it will presumably be submitted to the Knesset.

For years, rabbinical courts did decide disputes stemming from divorce agreements, until the High Court of Justice ruled a few years ago that they lacked legal authority to do so. Proponents of the bill say this ruling created an absurd situation, in which the rabbinical courts approve divorce settlements but then have no power to enforce them. Opponents of the bill argue that granting the rabbinical courts such broad powers would essentially create two parallel court systems, one religious and one civil, and would violate the status quo on questions of religion and state. They also say this would seriously undermine women's rights, especially of women whose husbands refuse to divorce them.

The previous government had also promised Shas that it would pass such a bill, but drafted a less extensive proposal - and even this was ultimately shelved due to public pressure.

The Justice Ministry responded that it had "no intention of commenting on leaks."