Haredi MKs ad­vance leg­is­la­tion to ex­pand ju­ris­dic­tion of rab­bini­cal courts

Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By JEREMY SHARON

United To­rah Ju­daism MKs Moshe Gafni and Uri Mak­lev fur­ther ad­vanced leg­is­la­tion in the Knes­set on Wed­nes­day that would ex­pand the ju­ris­dic­tion of the state rab­bini­cal courts and al­low them to ar­bi­trate in mat­ters of civil law.

Gafni ar­gues that the bill is a mat­ter of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and de­signed to al­low re­li­gious Jews the right to choose the le­gal fo­rum that is most com­men­su­rate with their val­ues and be­liefs.

Op­po­nents of the bill ar­gue, how­ever, that this right is al­ready guar­an­teed through non-state rab­bini­cal courts which are em­pow­ered to ar­bi­trate mat­ters of civil law.

Some coali­tion MKs and sev­eral op­po­si­tion MKs have voiced con­cerns that such leg­is­la­tion would en­dan­ger women’s and em­ploy­ees’ rights due to the na­ture of Jewish law and pres­sure that might be brought to bear on in­di­vid­u­als re­luc­tant to agree to rab­bini­cal court ar­bi­tra­tion.

The bill re­quires that both sides to a civil dis­pute con­sent to it be­ing heard in a rab­bini­cal court, and stip­u­lates sev­eral ex­clu­sions to what the rab­bini­cal courts can rule on, but op­po­nents are still wary that these ex­clu­sions are not spe­cific enough to al­lay their fears.

The le­gal ad­viser to the Con­sti­tu­tion, Law and Jus­tice Com­mit­tee high­lighted in par­tic­u­lar the dan­ger of al­low­ing the rab­bini­cal courts to ar­bi­trate in dis­putes be­tween em­ploy­ers and work­ers, com­ment­ing on the draft bill that it would be hard for an em­ployee to re­sist the re­quest of his em­ployer to go to the rab­bini­cal courts in­stead of the civil courts.

Gafni said dur­ing the com­mit­tee hear­ing on Wed­nes­day that he would “con­cede on ev­ery­thing. I only want the prin­ci­ple that if two adults want to have an is­sue of prop­erty law heard in ac­cor­dance with To­rah law in the rab­bini­cal courts of the state, then we will en­able this.”

He said that to block this law would be a stain on the lib­er­al­ism of sec­u­lar MKs, while Bayit Ye­hudi MK Beza­lel Smotrich called the op­po­nents of the law “hyp­o­crit­i­cal” and said that he does not un­der­stand “this sec­u­lar co­er­cion which pre­vents peo­ple from be­ing judged in ac­cor­dance with their faith.”

Smotrich also ac­cused the bill’s op­po­nents of “ex­trem­ist pa­ter­nal­ism,” and of treat­ing Is­raeli cit­i­zens “like id­iots.”

Gafni and Mak­lev have stated that they will agree to ex­clude all mat­ters of per­sonal sta­tus and em­ploy­ment dis­putes from the bill, but the draft bill is yet to re­flect that, and MKs op­pos­ing the law, in­clud­ing Ku­lanu MK Rachel Azaria, re­main skep­ti­cal of the cur­rent draft.

“The Haredi MKs are try­ing to dra­mat­i­cally in­crease the au­thor­ity of the rab­bini­cal courts,” Azaria said, and would open the way for other groups to de­mand that their courts be af­forded sim­i­lar rights.

“This law would harm women, im­mi­grants from the for­mer Soviet Union who are not Jewish ac­cord­ing to Jewish law, LGBTs, and peo­ple who en­ter this process with­out know­ing the prin­ci­ples,” she said.

Azaria also pointed out that Jewish law has a huge repos­i­tory of le­gal opin­ions, codices and com­men­taries, and that this means that in­ter­pre­ta­tion is down to in­di­vid­ual rab­bini­cal judges and their par­tic­u­lar world­view.

Yis­rael Beytenu MK Oded Forer, whose party ve­he­mently op­poses the leg­is­la­tion, ex­pressed con­cern that em­ploy­ees could be forced into agree­ing to rab­bini­cal court ar­bi­tra­tion in their em­ploy­ment con­tracts, adding that Mus­lim cit­i­zens could de­mand sim­i­lar au­thor­ity for Shari’a courts, if the leg­is­la­tion were to be ap­proved.

Yis­rael Beytenu fac­tion chair­man MK Robert Ila­tov is­sued a sharply worded let­ter to Tourism Min­is­ter Yariv Levin (Likud), who chairs a com­mit­tee of coali­tion MKs on is­sues re­gard­ing re­li­gion and state, protesting the ad­vance of leg­is­la­tion with­out coali­tion agree­ment on the is­sue.

Of­fi­cials in Yis­rael Beytenu al­lege that the Haredi par­ties have an agree­ment whereby the Joint List will sup­port, or at least not op­pose, the “rab­bini­cal courts bill,” while UTJ and Shas will op­pose the “muezzin bill” which seeks to limit the vol­ume of the call to prayer by mosques over loud­speak­ers.

Agree­ment on the leg­is­la­tion was not reached dur­ing the com­mit­tee hear­ing, es­pe­cially due to the op­po­si­tion of coali­tion MKs Azaria and Forer, and it ap­pears that the Haredi MKs will face sig­nif­i­cant dif­fi­cul­ties in ad­vanc­ing the bill through com­mit­tee to its first read­ing in the Knes­set plenum.

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