Aug 2, 2011

The rabbinical courts brought it on themselves

A committee appointed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman (himself a religious Jew and excellent lawyer) and chaired by Rabbi Dichovsky, formerly one of the most highly regarded judges (Dayanim) on the Rabbinical Supreme Court (Bet Hadin Hagadol) and presently Director of the Rabbinical Courts, is expected to submit a most surprising report.

Indeed, Rabbi Dichovsky has resigned as Chairman of the Committee and may even resign as Director of the Rabbinical Court System.

The surprising report will recommend that all aspects of divorce, except for the Get ceremony itself, be relegated to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Family Courts (part of the civil court system), instead of concurrent jurisdiction as exists today.

This means that only the Family Court will make the binding decisions regarding custody, child support, alimony and property distribution, even if the litigants would prefer the Rabbinical Courts to do so.

I can only say the Rabbinical Courts brought this on themselves.

When I settled in Israel in 1968, was admitted to the bar, and began to practice matrimonial law here, I defended the Rabbinical Courts against all detractors. As time went on I began to see that many of the criticisms were justified. The judges (dayanim) with few exceptions were very reluctant to order a husband to grant a Get or a wife to accept it no matter how convincing the justification.

They preferred to conduct a “war of attrition” against the couple. They would hold a hearing for 15-30 minutes and then adjourn the case for three months. After that they would hold another short hearing and adjourn for another three months. If either side did not show up on the next date, that was reason for another three month adjournment. Frequently the three judge bench was short one or even two dayanim although they only had binding power when all three were sitting.

They wanted the spouses to come to a “divorce agreement” settling all the issues between them. Then the court would give it the force of a judgment and arrange the formal Get ceremony.

There were those who said this system gave an unfair advantage to the husband, since it forced the wife to “buy” the Get by giving him part of the property to which she was entitled. My own experience was that it gave the advantage to whichever spouse was the worse “bastard”, which could also sometimes be the wife.

There were a few exceptions, Rabbis whose great knowledge of Torah enabled them to be daring in their decisions, like Rabbi Yitzhak Yedidia Frankel, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, or Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa or Rabbi Shlomo Goren, first the chief Rabbi of the IDF and later Chief Rabbi of Israel. But these were the exceptions. Most of the Religious Judges continued to decide not to decide.

As a result of the failure of the Rabbinical Court system to serve the public as it needed, public pressure led to the establishment of the Family Courts, which replaced the District courts regarding all aspects of matrimonial law except for the Get ceremony itself. From their outset the Family Courts had concurrent jurisdiction with the Rabbinical Courts, and there was often a race to the courthouse door to determine which would get the case. Now the recommendation is to give the Family Court exclusive jurisdiction over all aspects of divorce except the ceremonial aspects of the Get.

In my experience most of the Family Court judges are not such a great bargain either, but public disillusionment with the Rabbinical Court is so pervasive that it looks like they will win.


  1. Yitz, very interesting. I do have a friend who got the Beit Din to order a chiyuv get against the husband. the husband gave it, but finances were never, at least not for years, taken care of.

  2. People can also settle the other aspects of the divorce in a private Beit Din - many exist throughout Israel (for example Lishkat Hagazit Eretz Hemdah) and do the get with the Rabbinic court as usual.