High Court rules women must be allowed to administer rabbinical courts

Women’s rights groups hail ruling as judges nix job requirements that effectively precluded females

The entrance to the Rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv, November 27, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The entrance to the Rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv, November 27, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Women must be allowed to serve as directors of rabbinical courts, the High Court of Justice ruled Wednesday, in a decision one appellant called “a historical breakthrough.”

The ruling came after the court was petitioned in 2014 by several women’s groups, who were protesting the lack of female directors at rabbinical courts.

The court directorship is an administrative position with no say on judicial matters. The job’s current requirements, which stipulate that a candidate must be eligible to serve as a city rabbi in order to qualify, automatically precluded women from applying.

The new requirements ordered by the court on Wednesday are that the candidate be a resident of Israel, possess a rabbinical court advocate license or a law practicing license along with a master’s degree in Jewish law or Talmud, have at least seven years of experience in rabbinical court appearances, and possess “character and lifestyle befitting a director of rabbinical courts.”

Israel’s rabbinical court system, dominated by the ultra-Orthodox, is sanctioned by the state and governs life cycle issues such as marriage and divorce for the country’s Jewish citizens. A separate Sharia court system is in place for Muslims.

The High Court in its ruling stressed that the new requirements should allow both men and women to apply to administer the courts — “a place where lack of appropriate representation… has long been conspicuous.”

Justice Elyakim Rubinstein noted that “at a time when women are asserting themselves respectably in various positions in the public service, it is unreasonable not to allow them proper representation in the management of rabbinical courts.”

Attorney Batya Kahana-Dror, one of the petitioners, said the ruling was “a historical breakthrough.”

“This is the first time that gender discrimination in matters relating to the religious establishment has been defined as infringing upon the basic right to equality,” she told Walla news, adding that she hoped the ruling would in future become a guiding principle in all matters relating to equality under religion.

Liora Minka, head of the religious women’s organization Emunah, called the ruling “dramatic,” and said it would strengthen the religious establishment.

Rabbi Uri Regev, president of the religious pluralism group Hiddush, praised the High Court for “continuing to defend civil rights, equality and personal liberty.”

He added, however, that he expected the ultra-Orthodox religious establishment to fight the ruling and seek to undermine both it and the authority of the High Court.

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