While the Israeli public has been getting rightfully agitated about the exclusion of women from public spaces, there are other gender-segregated locations in Israel that are barely noticed but have far-reaching implications for all women. The Committee to Appoint of Rabbinical Judges (dayanim) is, for the first time in more than a decade (since women’s groups started protesting the issue), is an exclusively male panel. Yet the government is wringing its hands, as the coalition remains hostage, once again, to the entrenched sexism of religious parties.
The rabbinical courts are one of the most fiercely gender-segregated institutions in Israel. Women are not only forbidden from being judges — a viciously anti-democratic regulation that might go unnoticed save for the fact that every single marriage and divorce in Israel needs the approval of rabbinical judges — they are also prevented from taking administrative roles in managing the system. And the absence of women on the Committee to Appoint Dayanim is clearly a matter of convention and control rather than of religious law.
Women can and should take on at the very least ancillary role in the rabbinical courts, but it’s been an uphill battle. A bid last year to have a woman appointed as executive director of the rabbinical courts failed. And now, for the first time since the Bar Association nominated Sharon Shenhav as a representative on the Committee to Appoint Dayanim 12 years ago, the committee is all male once again — the bar association having nominated a man for its open slot last year. The rabbinical court, a body that has enormous power to determine people’s personal status, a power that is wielded predominantly Haredi judges throughout Israel, is thus without any female say.
Two months ago, Emunah petitioned the High Court to force a woman to be on the committee — a move that has legally stalled the appointment of all dayanim. And this past Sunday, the ministerial committee that decides which bills move forward in the Knesset discussed legislation put forth by the International Coalition for Agunah Rights, or ICAR, which proposes that two slots on the Committee be reserved for women.