Likud Agrees to Broad Rabbinic Court Authority

Shas and Likud have agreed to advance legislation that would broaden rabbinic court authority to include civil issues, despite a High Court ruling denying them such jurisdiction.

Shas demanded this legislation when it joined Olmert's government in 2006, in a bid to bypass the 2003 High Court ruling.

The proposal was submitted a year ago as a cabinet bill, but was suspended following harsh public criticism.

Now Shas is conditioning its participation in Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's government on this legislation.

Shas sources said Likud's negotiating team has already agreed to include this clause in the coalition agreement.

Currently rabbinic courts are authorized to hear matters pertaining to people's personal status and have jurisdiction on divorce agreements, such as custody arrangements between divorcing spouses.

Over the years they have tried to expand their powers, enabling them to rule on civil cases unrelated to divorce or conversion, such as financial disputes between consenting parties and legal disputes between divorced spouses.

The High Court of Justice ruled in 2003 that the rabbinic courts have no jurisdiction in these matters, even when both parties ask them to do so.

A public storm erupted in February 2008, when Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog advanced a similar proposal. Former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner said at the time that she was "scared to death" of the agreements Shas made with Kadima.

She said at a meeting of religious women's organizations that giving rabbinic judges authority to rule in civil matters would create "a parallel legal system."

The rabbinic court system has "already proved to be extremely problematic ... this would be terrible," she said.