Women Demand Right to Serve as Director of Israel's Rabbinical Courts

Petitioners claim Justice Minister Neeman has been sidestepping his obligation to provide equal opportunities for women seeking the job.

Three women are threatening to ask the High Court of Justice to declare unconstitutional a law requiring the director general of the rabbinical courts to be able to serve as a municipal rabbi or rabbinical court judge - titles awarded only to men.

Yaakov Neeman
Daniel Bar-On

Alternatively, the High Court petitioners - Atara Kenigsberg, an attorney and the executive director of the Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, rabbinic pleaders Tova Even Chen and Lily Horovitz-Getz (two of whom are also lawyers ) - want Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to seriously consider their candidacy for the director general job in spite of the law.

The petitioners say Neeman has sidestepped his obligation to provide equal opportunities for women seeking the job. They are also asking for more representation on the search committee, which currently includes four men and a woman, and is to submit its short list of candidates within a few days.

The list will go to the committee for the appointment of rabbinical court judges, headed by Neeman, which will make the final decision.

It is believed that the job will go to a candidate who enjoys the support of Shas, which has a majority on the search committee.

The search committee has already interviewed Kenigsberg, but she said the interview was just window dressing.

"I'm glad that our public and legal struggle has borne fruit and for the first time women are being considered for a post in a territory that until now has been completely blocked to them," she said. "Unfortunately, I believe that the consideration of female candidates was done to make a minimum effort to calm public pressure. Despite repeated appeals, the justice minister has declined to address the issue in principle of whether women can apply for the post."

Rabbinic pleaders are women who represent clients before the rabbinic courts.

The search committee "interviewed Kenigsberg with all due respect," a committee member said. "We will weigh all the interviewees and submit our recommendations."

The committee reportedly interviewed 30 candidates for the position, which Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan held for 20 years until he recently left the post.