The judges asked the woman’s husband to leave the courtroom. After he left, they asked the woman’s attorney how many witnesses he planned to call. After he answered, the rabbi-judges asked on their own initiative without prompting, “Are your witnesses men or also women?” “Both,” the woman’s attorney answered. The rabbinic court’s president, Rabbi Yisrael Yifrah, responded, “We don’t accept women.”
State Rabbinic Court Refuses To Hear Testimony From Females, Including Wife, In Divorce Case
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The official state Jerusalem Rabbinical Court refused to accept important, relevant testimony from women in a divorce case, Ha’aretz reported.
The woman wanted to testify during a hearing on the division of property, but the three rabbinic judges – Jerusalem Regional Rabbinical Court President Yisrael Yifrah, Rabbi Meir Yisasschar Mazuz and Rabbi Yosef Goldberg – refused to allow her to testify because she is a woman, a complaint filed with the state ombudsman for judges reportedly shows.
The woman then requested that the three rabbis disqualify themselves from hearing her case.
They refused, leaving her in the horrible position of being unable to give testimony on the division of property in her own divorce case.
She then tried to appeal the three rabbis’ refusal to disqualify themselves and was told that she would have to deposit 50,000 shekels ($14,300) with the rabbinical court or her appeal would not be heard.
Frustrated and enraged, she decided to file a complaint with the state’s ombudsman for judges.
The ombudsman, retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Rivlin, investigated and found that woman’s complaint was both justified and serious enough for him to ask the three rabbinic judges to reconsider and recuse themselves.
The woman complaint also included claims of irregularities with regard to her attorney being allowed to cross examine witnesses. Rivlin also found those complains about the rabbinic court judges were justified.
According to the woman’s complaint, the three rabbinic judges ruled that “according to Jewish law, a woman is not accepted as a witness unless the other side agrees, and the husband opposes a woman’s testimony.”
But when Rivlin looked at the transcripts of the hearing they showed that the judges asked the woman’s husband to leave the courtroom. After he left, they asked the woman’s attorney how many witnesses he planned to call. After he answered, the rabbi-judges asked on their own initiative without prompting, “Are your witnesses men or also women?” “Both,” the woman’s attorney answered. The rabbinic court’s president, Rabbi Yisrael Yifrah, responded, “We don’t accept women.”
There is reportedly no indication at all in the transcript that the husband objected to women testifying.
Rivlin, the state’s ombudsman, described the three judges behavior as “improper and outrageous.”
“There was no place for the court to ask the party who wanted to bring witnesses whether they were men or women, without the court even ascertaining which women want to testify and what they wanted to testify about.…[the facts of what took place add up to] a sorry picture of the conduct of a hearing,” Rivlin said. He also recommended that the rabbinic court reconsider its decision, “given the severity of the issues, and in light of the fact that the woman asked [for] the beit din to be disqualified.”
In the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), the deaf, the mentally ill, a known gambler, a person who desecrates Shabbat publicly, children below certain ages, and women are barred from being witnesses.
But in practice, women regularly testify in rabbinical courts under the principle that a person can testify about things that s/he personally experienced or if both parties agree to hear a woman’s testimony. Rabbinical courts also regularly get so-called background information from a women, which is essentially testimony even though technically it isn’t.
The bar against testimony of minors and women has frequently been used by haredi rabbis to protect men who abuse women and/or children. The victims are disqualified from giving testimony and whatever they say to the rabbinic court can effectively be ignored by the rabbis or is simply trumped by the “kosher” testimony of men, even the alleged abuser, who are often lying.
Sources in the state rabbinical court system, which is haredi controlled, told Ha’aretz that in response to the woman’s complaint to the ombudsman, the Rabbinical Courts Administration considered reissuing professional guidelines for rabbi-judges that make clear that they must accept women’s testimony.
However, the Rabbinical Courts Administration reportedly decided not to reissue the guidelines because all the rabbi-judges know what the rules are anyway, and this particular panel’s refusal to hear the woman’s testimony was not the norm – even though the rabbi-judge who heads that panel is the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court’s president.
“There are very specific circumstances in which a woman’s testimony is not acceptable, and these are very rare circumstances that rarely come up in the rabbinical courts nowadays. The problem with Dayan Yifrah [the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court’s president] is that he forgot the `fifth volume of the Shulhan Arukh,’ which is to be a mentsch,” a source in the Rabbinical Courts system told Ha’aretz, referring to the old aphorism. The Shuchan Aruch actually has only four volumes. The so-called missing fifth volume is that rabbis must have common sense.
Yifrah – who arguably lacks that fifth volume – was reportedly promoted to head the regional rabbinical court in May 2012. That position is equivalent to being the president of a civil district court.
The Rabbinical Courts Administration declined to comment on this case, claiming ombudsman’s rulings are sealed. But it noted that the ombudsman’s decisions “are always recorded in the personal files of the rabbinical judges involved, and they are considered at relevant times by the president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, the justice minister and the Judicial Appointments Committee.”
The Jerusalem Regional Rabbinical Court Yifrah heads is considered to be one of the most problematic in the entire country judged by the volume of complaints received about its judges’ behavior, rabbinical court cources told Ha’aretz.