Thursday, September 29, 2005

Who's to judge?

I tracked down Susan Weiss's piece on the rabbinical courts in the new edition of The Jerusalem Report (Oct 3). Since there's no link, a brief overview: the majority of the piece is an attack on the configuration of the committee which chooses rabbinical judges, which currently consists of the two chief rabbis, two rabbinic court judges, two MKs, two ministers and two representatives of the Bar. 8/10 are currently men, too many are political and religious hacks who appoint to the bench through political deals. All this was clear when MK Haim Ramon, who held the balance of power on the committe, decided earlier this year that he was going to take revenge on the national religious for going against disengagement by supporting only ultra-orthodox candidates, and when we had to watch R. Ovadiah and R. Elyashiv do all the negotiations and settle the issue amongst themselves.
What Weiss does reveal is that out of the 140 applications for the 8 new positions on the court, only 5 percent have any academic education whatsoever, and only 5 percent served in the army outside the military rabbinate. Ie. -- majority ultra-Orthodox with no academic qualifications, no experience at all in the world of the majority of the people they are going to be judging. To me this raises the question, which Weiss doesn't address, of why there are so few national religious applicants whose candidacy can even be considered?
Either way the candidates that do present themselves are not properly vetted. Worst of all, most candidates "were unwilling or unprepared" to answer a question, put to them by one of the two women on the committee, about how they would deal in court with a husband who beat his wife and as a result, she was hospitalized / in a shelter.
"Apparently this was the first time a committee member had ever asked such a question... Until Shenhav asked her question, candidates' attitudes toward women's interests had never been examined."
Of-course not, 'cos they were too busy working out if candidates were Ashkenazi or Sephardi, and if they supported this rabbi or that. Once that's settled, what their attitudes are to the issues and the people they're going to be judging, what their qualifications are to be sitting on that bench are less important (Weiss notes that among the candidates considered 'pro-women,' those with too many academic qualifications were vetoed as well). And that's how you end up with this.
It's been clear for a long time that the composition of this committee is a disaster and certainly, tackling it -- and clarifying the criteria for who gets to be appointed -- is one very obvious way to tackle the attitudes and strange behaviour of the rabbinical courts. But Wiess goes one further:
Of-course, women have never sat on the rabbinic bench... And until a woman can be appointed to the bench, No Judge is a Good Judge. A judiciary that precludes women from the benh cannot be fair, impartial or empathetic to the pain of women who appeal to courts for justice.
Now, before certain commentators jump to proclaim that women cannot serve as dayanim, her suggestion is not completely new and unheard of. The widely respected Rav Ya'akov Ariel -- who would have been the current chief rabbi of Israel, had politics not intervened -- had to say on the matter in 2002:
There is no halachic obstacle to women serving as rabbinical court judges, Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel said this week.
Ariel, considered one of the leading stricter rabbis of the National Religious Party, reportedly made the comment during a symposium at Bar-Ilan University.
Aviad Hacohen, director of the Mosaic Center, which sponsored the symposium, quoted Ariel as saying there is no obstacle in terms of the learning and knowledge of women today.
The more often these ideas are heard and pushed for, the quicker they will become reality; so more power to Susan Weiss, and I'm all in favour. The day when we will see it happening, however, is still far off; at the moment, we can't even get enough people to press for the the committee appointing the judges -- of whatever gender -- to be rid of political/religious hacks, include more women's voices and more modern Orthodox people, or to press for the men appointed to the bench to be better qualified, more moderate, more considerate towards women and to include more modern Orthodox. All this, despite real and very harsh anger at the Rabbinic courts amongst the public. What does it take, in Israel, to translate anger at the system into action??????


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Diana said...

The Jerusalem Report is a biweekly print-only newsmagazine that covers political and social issues in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, from a leftist viewpoint. sportsbook, As the publication promotes itself: "Each issue brings you political insights, powerful personalities, and comments on the cultural scene."