Oppose Backdoor Appointments of Rabbinical Court Judges

Plan to return 10 retired dayanim to the bench is an attempt to circumvent the new appointments panel and staff rabbinical courts with those backed by the ultra-Orthodox community.

Tomer Appelbaum

The plan by the religious services minister and the head of the Supreme Rabbincal Court to return to the bench 10 retired rabbinical court judges (dayanim) — ostensibly to help overburdened judges — is puzzling and unnecessary.

In two weeks the committee for appointing rabbinical court judges, which for the first time will have four women among its 11 members, is due to meet and appoint some 30 new dayanim. This would come after a lull of five years, and its an excellent opportunity to name more-liberal judges who believe women have equal rights and recognize the authority of the civil court system.

Appointing these 10 judicial fellows is an attempt to circumvent the appointments committee and staff the rabbinical courts with dayanim preferred by the ultra-Orthodox community. Religious Services Minister David Azoulay and the head of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, gave no explanations for how and why these particular dayanim were chosen.

But as Haaretz reported on Friday in Hebrew, the list includes dayanim who are stringent and discriminate against women. Also, their rulings have been challenged and the complaints have been found justified. One of them even quit the bench because of a criminal investigation against him.

Among the dayanim Azoulay and Yosef seek to return is Rabbi Nahum Prawer, the first to invoke the rule of Maharshdam from the 16th century, from which he concluded that setting conditions for awarding a divorce — even when there are grounds to order the husband to issue one — is legitimate.

Another dayan expected to be reappointed is Rabbi Avraham Zvi Sheinfeld, who also adopted this line of reasoning. In a number of cases, both rabbis ruled to retroactively annul womens divorces after they violated the conditions the women were coerced into accepting in order to get divorced.

Another dayan on the list is Moshe Ohnona, who is suspected of trying to persuade a woman to drop a complaint of indecent assault against her brother-in-law. When she refused, Ohnona was hostile toward her sister during the sisters divorce case. Last year police recommended that he be charged with suborning a witness, obstruction of justice and breach of trust, but recently state prosecutors closed the case for lack of evidence.

The response by the Rabbinical Courts Administration shows that its well aware of the complaints against these dayanim.

The rabbinical court system would be pleased if we were living in an ideal world with no complaints about dayanim or judges, but given the current overload and the need to find solutions, even if they arent perfect, there is no choice but to appoint judicial fellows, the administration said in a statement.

This response isnt convincing, and the chairman of the appointments committee, Yuval Steinitz, should announce that he opposes these appointments. The way to deal with the pressure is to appoint new, worthy dayanim. Judicial fellows shouldnt be appointed through the back door.