It was a judicial punch in the nose for Israel’s chief rabbis and rabbinical courts. Yesterday, a seven-judge panel of Israel’s High Court of Justice headed by the Court’s President Asher Grunis hit Israel’s haredi chief rabbis square on the nose – hard.
High Court Rules Chief Rabbi, Rabbinic Courts, Knowingly Broke Law In Divorce Case
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
It was a judicial punch in the nose for Israel’s chief rabbis and rabbinical courts.
Yesterday, a seven-judge panel of Israel’s High Court of Justice headed by the Court’s President Justice Asher Grunis hit Israel’s haredi chief rabbis square on the nose – hard.
The High Court voided a ruling issued by the Rabbinical Court of Appeals – a rabbinical court ruling that was clearly issued in violation of the law of the State of Israel. Sefardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar headed the rabbinic panel that violated the law to issue that ruling.
The case was not complicated.
A couple signed a divorce settlement in a notary’s office. According to a report in Ha’aretz, seven years later they submitted it to the Rabbinical Court of Appeals for ratification. Despite the seven-year gap, the Rabbinical Court of Appeals approved the settlement and granted the couple a halakhic divorce.
Approximately six months later the man asked the Rabbinical Court of Appeals to reduce the child support he had to pay as set down in that settlement.
His ex-wife, with the help of the Justice Ministry’s legal aid department in Jerusalem, objected, arguing that because the divorce was already granted and the settlement approved, the state’s rabbinical courts no longer had legal authority to modify the settlement.
A regional rabbinical court rejected the woman’s argument and reduced the child support. On appeal, the Rabbinical Court of Appeals, headed by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, upheld the lower rabbinical court’s ruling.
But Israel law and several court rulings already forbade the state’s rabbinical courts from ruling on post-divorce cases unless the issues were part of the original petition for divorce brought before them.
Yesterday, a seven-member High Court of Justice panel headed by the High Court of Justice’s President Asher Grunis ruled that once a divorce is granted by the rabbinic courts, the state’s secular Family Courts are the only courts authorized to rule on child custody and child support cases.
“In the absence of an agreement between the sides to accept the Rabbinical Court’s authority, and in the absence of a court hearing on the settlement itself, the child-support issue is outside the Rabbinical Court’s jurisdiction,” the High Court ruling stated.
One member of the seven-judge panel, Justice Salim Joubran, wrote that the Rabbinical Court of Appeals’ disregard of the law was an “attempt to change the delicate balance between cultural and religious group-identity and individual liberties.”
In Israel, the state’s haredi-controlled rabbinical courts have a monopoly on marriage and divorce for Jews. As part of their monopoly on divorce, the state’s rabbinical courts can also determine child support, custody, division of property, and alimony – but only during the initial divorce claim and only if one or both parties request it.
In practice, this means that one spouse – usually the husband – can force the other spouse to have these issues adjudicated in a state rabbinical court by filing a claim for divorce that includes these specific issues with the rabbinical court first, before the other spouse can file her claim for those post-divorce issues in secular Family Court.
Previously, in violation of Israel law, state rabbinical courts continued to deal with cases like this for years after it had granted the divorce, even though the post-divorce issues like child custody properly belonged in secular Family Court.
By law, a state rabbinic court can only deal with post-divorce issues like child custody if those issues were part of the original petition for divorce brought before it.
The High Court of Justice’s ruling yesterday reaffirmed that, stripping the case in question from the domain of the state rabbinic courts and voiding its post-divorce rulings in it.