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Window open for moderate rabbinical court appointments, but no guarantees

CM 05/08/2021 2

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The Knesset vote on Wednesday for spots on the Selection Committee for Rabbinical Judges has created a unique situation on this important panel in which haredi (ultra-Orthodox) representatives do not have a majority or even veto power over some of the appointments.
This means that there is now an opportunity – but no guarantee – that more liberally inclined rabbinical judges could be appointed to the regional rabbinical courts, a goal that has been pursued by liberal religious-Zionist and divorce rights organizations to balance what are often seen as conservative-minded rabbinical court benches.
There are currently six positions open on the 12 regional courts, as well as three or possibly four on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Appointments to the regional courts require a simple majority of the 13-member committee, although appointments to the Supreme Rabbinical Court need a majority of 10-3 for approval.

Under the new constellation of the committee membership, there are just four haredi representatives.
The selection committee has 13 members, including the two chief rabbis, both haredim, along with two rabbinical judges on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, who have already been selected and are also haredi.
In addition, there will be three ministers on the panel: Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana and Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin, both of whom are religious Zionists, while a female minister, likely from Yesh Atid, will also be selected.
The vote on Wednesday saw the election of Yamina MK Shirley Pinto for the coalition and Likud MK Gila Gamliel for the opposition, while the two representatives from the Israel Bar Association are both from the religious-Zionist community.
In addition, two female rabbinical courts advocates need to be chosen by Kahana and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
Due to their low representation, the haredi members will be hard pressed to block the appointment of liberal rabbinical judges to the regional courts as has happened in previous rounds of appointments, particularly against rabbis associated with the moderate Tzohar religious-Zionist rabbinical association.
But some liberal judges may not enjoy universal support from the non-haredi members, with Gamliel of the Likud Party that is closely allied with the haredi political parties not guaranteed to cooperate with the liberal representatives on the committee.
Elkin is known to be close with hard-line conservative elements in the religious-Zionist community connected to the radical Har Harmor yeshiva, meaning he could either oppose a liberal judge who is flagged by more hard-line elements, or condition his support for a particular candidate on the appointment of a conservative one.
Appointments to the Supreme Rabbinical Court will be even harder, since both sides will have veto power over each other.
Such a scenario could lead to the traditional horse-trading over such positions to the mutual benefit of both liberals and conservatives, although it could equally create a stalemate and the appointment of no judges to the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
In short, there is certainly a significant opportunity to bring in more moderate rabbinical judges to the rabbinical courts, who in the course of time could bring about a less conservative approach to the way personal status issues regarding divorce, conversion and other issues are addressed.
Committee chairman Kahana has described himself as aligned with Tzohar’s rabbinical approach, and will certainly wish to see the appointment of their judges.
But there are still no guarantees that such achievements can be gained, and it will take hard work, patience, skill and diplomacy from Kahana to secure the appointment of such candidates.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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