Bringing Justice to Israel’s Rabbinical Courts

In Parshat Shoftim , Devarim 16:18-20 we read: “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all of your gates, which HaShem your God shall give you, throughout your tribes; and they shall judge the people with just judgment…Justice, justice shall you follow that you may inherit the Land which HaShem your God gives you.”

According to Sefer HaChinuch: “This is one of the mitzvot imposed on the entire community in any and every location. If the members of a community are suitable to establish a beit din (court of law) among themselves and they have not established it for themselves, they have disobeyed this positive mitzvah and the punishment is severe indeed since this mitzvah is a mighty pillar in the maintenance of the religious system of law.”

Today in Israel, there are regional religious courts which primarily deal with cases of marriage and divorce set up in the major cities in Israel as well as the Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Jerusalem. Right now there are not enough dayanim (judges) to go around. So although technically there are courts in all of the major cities, they are not all able to function on a daily basis which means that many cases are being held up.

Some of the dayanim (from the group of nine that are needed in Jerusalem) are ill or ready to retire so temporary replacements have been found to cover for them in the mean time. The only problem is that the temporary dayanim who are covering in Jerusalem are dayanim who are being taken away from their jobs in other cities in order to cover in Jerusalem. Their appointments are actually causing more harm than good as they can only be in Jerusalem two days a week, so that they can continue working in their regular communities the other three days.

The Chief Rabbis who have a lot of different responsibilities outside the rabbinical courts each only work in the rabbinical courts one day a week. This is hardly enough time to get enough dayanim together to attend to the 45,000 cases that have been put on hold.

Each divorce hearing that is postponed or canceled due to lack of dayanim is like the destruction of an entire world. People want to move on with their lives and it can be years for their case to even be heard. This needs to be corrected immediately with the appointment of new dayanim.

When new dayanim are finally appointed, will they represent the population? Will they be from the Dati-Leumi (National-Religious) world or will they be from the Charedi world? As of now, with the way that the government is set up. it is unfortunately looking like Aryeh Deri (Charedi) will end up choosing the dayanim since as of now Naftali Benett and his party, HaBayit HaYehudi (who should be representing the National-Religious population) are concerned with other issues and are letting this fall through the cracks.

Why is it a problem if the majority of dayanim are Charedim?

The Charedi dayanim are often overly strict, especially in areas such as custody. There are cases where women had custody of their children taken away from them, even though they are good mothers because they are not “Charedi enough”. If the father wants the children to grow up in a Charedi home, even if he has been proven to be abusive the rabbinical courts will often give the father custody to ensure that the children live a Charedi lifestyle. This needs to change.

In addition, many Charedim don’t even use the rabbinical courts of the State of Israel and instead prefer to use their own private rabbinical courts. The dayanim of the state run religious courts really should reflect the population that they are dealing with.

By having rabbinic courts that are barely running (unlike the secular courts where nobody would stand for this kind of behavior), the mitzvah of “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all of your gates” is not being fulfilled. If the court is not in session, it can’t really be considered a functioning court.

We must do what we can to ensure that “Justice, justice shall you follow that you may inherit the Land which HaShem your God gives you.”

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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