A family in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of El’ad has been excommunicated from their community. They are spat at in the streets, the daughters were denied registration at school (until Hiddush took legal action on their behalf), the father had to switch synagogues, and the mother who turned to Hiddush for legal support has suffered health complications from the stress and heartache.

I met the mother a few weeks ago, and heard her family’s story through her sobs. I also attended her first Supreme Court hearing, a year and a half after Hiddush submitted a petition to have the rabbinical writ of refusal (excommunication notice) annulled. The announcement of the excommunication instructed El’ad residents to relate to the family as if they had “rebelled against the Torah of Moses”.

The “crime” was turning to the State of Israel’s civil court system for justice rather than El’ad’s private rabbinical court in a legal dispute with her family’s upstairs neighbors. The woman’s rabbi recommended that she do so, as the neighbors had started constructing their balcony over her patio without her family’s permission and without a building permit, saying to her, “we will build our balcony for our sukkah (ritual booth for Festival of Tabernacles) over your patio regardless, as you only have daughters, but we have sons.” (see footnote)

Per Israeli law, any individual can be appointed as a legal arbitrator, but arbitration shall only take place if all parties have entered into a written arbitration agreement. In other words, our client could have legally resolved this issue through private arbitration, but she opted for the civil court system, which is her legal right.

As for the writ of refusal itself, the Attorney General’s office has published clear guidelines, establishing that “issuing a writ of refusal with the goal of causing a civil court to dismiss a lawsuit could allegedly be a criminal offense under obstruction of justice.” In severe cases, a writ of refusal could be considered criminal extortion.

Central to this Supreme Court case is the state-salaried Chief Rabbi of El’ad, legally bound as a civil servant by the Attorney General’s regulations, who also bears the title of “President” of the private, rabbinical court. Chief Rabbi Mordechai Malka’s name was printed upon the excommunication notice.

I won’t rewrite the entire story that we published on the Hiddush website (here), but my admiration for our client’s sheer bravery is tremendous. The pressure her family faces to circumvent the civil court system in favor of the private, rabbinical court is fierce, yet she persists in her battle for justice.

Apparently, she also has supporters.

After the hearing, Hiddush received some significant e-mails. One such e-mail reads as follows (the translation is mine):

  1. I am an ultra-Orthodox woman, and for obvious reasons I would like to remain anonymous for the time being.
  2. I want to congratulate you on the petition you submitted against the ultra-Orthodox courts that are creating an atmosphere of violence, fear and terror in the ultra-Orthodox community, sweeping all cases of injustice under the rug. Unfortunately, the ultra-Orthodox community is held prisoner by this violent system of the rabbis and politicians, and cannot extricate itself from this situation; and only you with your blessed actions can help the ultra-Orthodox community save itself from itself.
  3. I would like to bring to your attention an article published on Friday (Nov. 13) in the local magazine of the city of El’ad (attached) in relation to the petition, according to which the El’ad municipality deceived the Supreme Court that it bears no connection… to the private, rabbinical court (and also concerned itself to publish this on the municipality’s official website)…
  4. I have personal knowledge that this is a gross lie! The El’ad municipality budgets thousands of shekels annually for the chambers of the city rabbis… which the private rabbinical courts operate out of.
  5. Further, the secretary of the office of Chief Rabbi Mordechai Malka… is Rabbi Turgeman, who wears an additional hat as the secretary of the private rabbinical court… and also receives a monthly salary from the El’ad municipality.
  6. On the website of the El’ad municipality, it is also clearly written that the private rabbinical court operates out of the chambers of the Chief Rabbi:
    [deleted text]
    At this location one can receive the following services (not under the responsibility of the local authority): affidavits, rabbinical court for financial disputes, Kosher certification
    it is made clear that the rabbinical court is a private tribunal, not related to the municipality, and litigation is only put before them with the consent of all parties…
    [deleted text]
  7. I hope you will not let the El’ad municipality escape responsibility for its crimes, as it receives its budget from the State of Israel, and may you also be victorious in annulling these “writs of refusal” issued by private courts not funded by the State with criminal sanctions against those corrupt rabbinical judges that impose horror and terror upon the community.

Wishing you blessings of success,
X

The article in the e-mail attachment makes clear that the private rabbinical court openly refuses to respond to police questioning on this matter, refuses to respond to the Supreme Court’s show cause order, and has challenged the Supreme Court to annul the writ of refusal itself. The judges of the private rabbinical court are self-righteous, and show no compunction in making public their refusal to cooperate with the State of Israel’s justice system.

Reading this, at first, I felt flabbergasted, indignant, frustrated… if the Israeli Supreme Court ultimately rules against these writs of refusal, will anything actually change for the citizens? Will the Israeli police truly enforce such a ruling?

But more than anything, I am hopeful.

How wonderful that members of the ultra-Orthodox El’ad community reached out to us, despite the potential threat of excommunication. How wonderful that they would help us build our legal case against these coercive writs of refusal. How wonderful that we’ve given them hope.

This is the attached magazine page. If you’d
like a full-size copy, just let me know

 


Footnote:

  • According to halakha as practiced by Orthodox Jews, women are exempt from the requirement of eating in a sukkah (link)