As part of the coalition negotiations between the Likud and Shas, it was decided that responsibility for the rabbinical courts would be transferred from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Religious Services (currently under Shas leadership). We at Emunah opposed this move due to serious concern that the courts would be damaged by it, and we accordingly filed a petition with the Supreme Court on this issue.
Israel's rabbinical courts have a unique level of authority on issues of marriage and divorce, meaning that all Jewish couples seeking to marry or divorce in the State of Israel must arrange the matter via the rabbinical court system. Moving the rabbinical courts to the Ministry of Religious Services will cause damage to the rabbinical courts themselves and, as a direct result, will negatively affect the entire population of those involved in proceedings in the rabbinical court framework – at least half of whom are female.
The rabbinical courts are a state framework and an inseparable part of the Israeli justice system. In our view, this situation should be preserved and the rabbinical courts kept under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for all of Israel's state justice systems. It should be emphasized that the rabbinical court system is neither extra- nor supra-legal, meaning that its inclusion within the Ministry of Justice is natural and proper.
This Justice Ministry sponsorship makes three things possible:
First, supervision and control mechanisms that exist within all systems and that must, by the same token, be present within the judicial system as well. Justice Ministry supervision and control encompass the supervision of rabbinical court conduct, i.e., ensuring that rulings are issued in a timely manner, that legal procedure is upheld and that the entire system operates efficiently. It also encompasses the dayan appointment process, in terms of appointment methods, etc. Justice Ministry supervision and control are of singular importance to Israeli women who, as we know, are faced with a system that is all-male (dayanim) and that often obstructs the divorce process rather than facilitating it.
Second: ensuring continuing education on sensitive issues comparable to that provided within the civil legal system: study days, conferences and annual in-service training for dayanim similar to the activities arranged for judges, on issues of sexual harassment and the like …
Third, consistency within the legal system on procedural issues not originating from differences in the essential law (where the religious and civilian courts rule differently), e.g.: fees, duration of recesses, and the like. It should be remembered that these are matters of great importance to those who are involved in proceedings.
Additionally, the rabbinical court system's inclusion within the Justice Ministry is significant in terms of its image. There can be no doubt that moving the system to the Ministry of Religious Services will weaken and undermine the rabbinical courts and return them to the days when they fell under the limiting category of "Israeli religious services."
Emunah has submitted a petition to the Supreme Court against the rabbinical court system transfer, due to serious concerns about making one of Israel's legal arms dependent on politics and on politicians. This could cause irreparable harm to the rabbinical court system, which ultimately is tasked with providing full and equal legal services to the entire Israeli public. The damage to which the system would be exposed if transferred from the professional supervision of the Justice Ministry (which has jurisdiction over the state legal system as a whole) to that of the Ministry of Religious Services would adversely affect the public at large. The great fear is, of course, a return to the days when the system harmed those subject to its rulings – in particular, Israeli women.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court rejected our petition, on the principle of not intervening in coalition agreements. It is our hope that our concerns will prove unfounded.