The ruling given by the High Court of Justice in a petition against the Great Rabbinical Court, according to which a woman’s part of an asset may be denied her under circumstances in which she had intimate relations with a man who was not her husband, constitutes a regression to an old and primitive world, in which an adulteress is punished through economic sanctions. The court did not order that she be stoned, but it certainly lent a hand to an infringement of her property rights.
In doing so, the High Court turned its back on consistent rulings of the Supreme Court, which has tried to put limits on the jurisdiction of rabbinical courts. The latter traditionally ensure the inferiority of women appearing before them in matters of marriage and divorce. This has necessitated a lengthy and persistent state-sponsored legal effort to restrict the extent of rabbinical jurisdiction. Court rulings have managed to do so, for which the system should be commended.
The court ruled long ago that in financial matters between a couple, including the division of assets when they separate, civil laws apply since these issues are not germane to marriage or divorce. These rulings applied to all courts, civil or religious. This legal approach displeased the rabbinical judges, whose allegiance is first and foremost to the laws of the Torah, not the laws of the state. Thus, the court’s decision to deny a woman her part in a couple’s assets is a ratification of the application of religious law to financial matters. This is a poor decision with dangerous ramifications.
The societal results of these rulings are harsh. They provide a tailwind to the strengthening of the patriarchal conception whereby women are inferior, and by which they have an obligation to total loyalty and obedience. This is enforced by sanctions imposed on them. In a society striving to achieve gender equality, this ruling is bad news.
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Moreover, this ruling will lead to an expansion of an industry devoted to surveillance and spying on spouses. Proof of adultery will be pursued, with the accompanying financial expenses and the serious harm caused to privacy in people’s most intimate sphere.
The High Court ruling was given by a majority of two – Alex Stein and David Mintz – against one, Yitzhak Amit, who wrote that “this ruling takes us backward.” The appointment of Justices Stein and Mintz was part of the conservative revolution led by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who wanted to bring about a “personnel and juridical diversity which our society was so lacking, and which was missing at the highest court level.” If the purpose of her revolution was to take Israel’s legal system dozens of years backward, it seems to be going in that direction.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.