Livni to advance bill on disciplinary panel for rabbis

Legislation aims to crack down on offenses perpetrated by clergymen by altering the composition of the investigative committee

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Leader of the Hatnua party and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni leads a party meeting on December 30, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Leader of the Hatnua party and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni leads a party meeting on December 30, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is slated to propose a bill that calls for the establishment of an external committee to oversee hearings for rabbinate clergy accused of disciplinary infractions. The new tribunal would also forge legal guidelines for offenses — including incitement, racist comments, and illegitimate political activity.

The bill will be presented to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation next week.

Under the present system, the committee that investigates complaints against rabbinate rabbis is comprised of a rabbinical judge and two city rabbis. The bill would require a panel of three judges — one selected by the justice minister; one by the justice minister in collaboration with the president of the rabbinical supreme court; and one city rabbi, appointed by the Chief Rabbinate.

The composition of the present disciplinary tribunal has attracted criticism, amid claims that having these rabbis investigate their colleagues is ineffective. Furthermore, the area of legal disciplinary violations remains largely undefined.

“Experience has taught us that the current regulations raise various difficulties that lead to [a state in which] the apparatus prescribed by law is not fulfilling its purpose,” read the draft of the bill, according to Yedioth Ahronoth.

News of the bill was met with a mixture of praise and trepidation by religious Zionist movement Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah.

“The bill on the subject of disciplinary violations by rabbis meets a large and important need and we welcome the initiative,” a statement from the liberal-leaning organization reads. “However, it illustrates the fundamental problems that currently exist in relations between religion and state, which requires a more robust solution [in the] long term.” While the bill will strengthen ties between the religious and civil courts, the statement continues, it is liable to “possibly harm the freedom of religion of the rabbis,” the statement said.

Livni previously spoke out on the issue in response to comments made by Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu last July, after Eliyahu ruled that property should not be rented or sold to Arabs.

“A chief rabbi represents not just the rabbinate, but Israel itself as a country. Therefore, [his] rulings and statements that support nationalistic discrimination and have racist undertones are harmful to the already sensitive fabric [of Israeli society] and threaten to deepen the rift between us and Israel’s Arab citizens,” Livni said.

Earlier in July, Livni had announced that she would weigh disciplinary action against the state-employed Eliyahu.

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