Rabbinical court judges to get female legal advisers

In a significant achievement for women’s divorce rights, the Rabbinical Courts Administration will soon hire two women as legal advisers for two regional rabbinical courts.

The position of legal adviser is extremely influential, since rabbinical judges cannot issue rulings which contravene Israeli law, and legal advisers review and can require changes to important and precedent-setting rulings.

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The Rabbinical Courts Administration agreed to the appointments due to a legal action filed in the Jerusalem Labor Court by the ITIM Advocacy Center and the Rackman Center for Advancing the Status of Women.

Until now, only men have filled the benches of the rabbinical courts and the positions of legal adviser. The judges, together with the legal advisers, rule in hundreds of cases involving agunot (chained women) and thousands of cases involving divorce.

“This would be the highest position ever achieved by a woman in Israel’s thirteen rabbinical courts,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM, who filed the suit last year.

“Ironically, in a Jewish and democratic state that aspires to be just, women were left on the sidelines in some of the most sensitive legal decisions affecting tens of thousands of lives,” he added.

Karen Horowitz, head of public policy at the Rackman Center, expressed both satisfaction and reservations about the Rabbinical Court Administration’s decision.

“This is a good first step and we are gratified that the state authorities are willing to implement a solution in the immediate future,” said Horowitz.

“The time has come for the Civil Service Authority to recognize that the courts are meant to serve the entire population of Israel, and not just males. We look forward to a day when women can serve as consultants for the rabbinical court judges in areas of Jewish law in a way that is befitting the status of the courts.”

The tender for the new positions is expected to be issued within 90 days, and the Jerusalem Labor Court will review the situation when that period expires.