The government is in the preliminary stages of advancing new legislation that would extend the jurisdiction of state-run rabbinical courts to civil matters.
A draft proposal of the new bill would allow Israel’s rabbinical courts to issue legally binding rulings on nonreligious matters including imposing home foreclosures, confiscating private property and issuing temporary travel bans, and would also be able to summon witnesses to appear and testify before religious judges.
Currently, Israel’s state-run rabbinic courts are authorized to rule on matters of Jewish identity and conversion, marriage and divorce (including financial settlements), and kashrut supervision.
Under the new law, the rabbinical courts would go from serving as arbitrator to official judicial bodies, whose rulings would have to be overturned at the Supreme Court level.
A similar bill proposed by the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party earlier this year that would have granted rabbinical courts the authority to rule on monetary cases was sharply criticized by lawmakers for fear the religious courts would unfairly discriminate against women. It passed its first reading but has not progressed further in the legislative process.
The new proposed legislation, however, stipulates that the rabbinical court’s rulings would have to be in accordance with existing Israeli laws protecting the rights of women, workers and disabled people. The law would also require that both parties agree to accept the final ruling before rabbinic judges can proceed with civil cases.
The draft text of the bill calls the legislation “an appropriate response to the need of the Jewish public in Israel to settle matters in a rabbinical court in accordance with the Torah.”
It says the new bill is in line with “basic right to unfettered access to the courts, and is in accordance with the values of the State of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic country.”
According to a report by the Haaretz daily, the law has the support of the rabbinical courts, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party.
It was not immediately clear when the legislation would be submitted to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for approval. If approved, the bill would face three readings in the Knesset, and with Shas and Shaked on board, could enjoy early coalition support as it moves through the stages of legislation.