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Jewish Home Wins Delay in Divorce Bill

Justice Minister Livni's bid to weaken the Rabbinic Courts' authority in divorce cases may face veto.
By Shlomo Pitrikovsky, Gil Ronen
First Publish: 6/29/2014, 4:37 PM

Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan
Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan
Hezki Ezra

The Jewish Home chalked up what it says is a victory Sunday in a tug of war with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the genderist establishment over a bill that would weaken the Rabbinical Courts' authority in divorce.

Livni's bill was divided into two separate bills in Sunday's session of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. One would mandate mediation between divorcing spouses before going to court, and the second would effectively make the civil Family Courts the default venue for deciding divorces, unless both spouses prefer the Rabbinical Courts.

The part of the bill regarding mediation was approved by the Committee and will be brought before the Knesset, where it is expected to pass with the Coalition's support – as are most bills that are approved by the Committee for Legislation.

The discussion of the second part of the bill was postponed by two weeks, as were three privately-sponsored bills of a similar nature that were to be attached to the governmental bill.

The opposition to this part of the bill was led by the Jewish Home ministers, who were represented in this matter by Deputy Religious Services Minister Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, who served as Director of the Rabbinical Courts for 20 years.

If the bill passes in two weeks' time, the Jewish Home intends to appeal it. The Jewish Home's Coalition agreement stipulated that the party would have veto power over matters pertaining to religion and state, and the Jewish Home intends to put that power to the test regarding this legislation. It is not clear, however, if the appeal will in fact be a veto, or simply send the bill back to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which is headed by Minister Livni, who will simply bring it to a new vote.

Current laws make it possible to decide divorce cases in either the Rabbinical or the Family Courts, except for custody, which is only decided by the Family Court. Since the Rabbinical Courts are often perceived as more pro-male, while the Family Courts are seen as more pro-female, a race often results – with each side racing to beat the other to the punch by filing the divorce proceedings at his or her preferred venue before the other can do so at the other venue.

The bill states that if one side to the divorce files the divorce case at the Rabbinical Court, the other side would still have 30 days in which to turn to the Family Court. In such a case, the Family Court would have precedence over the Rabbinical Court.

Minister Livni said that the bill “would put an end to women's concern at possibly suffering damage at the Rabbinical Court, and will enable a rational and well-thought-out discussion between the partners, thus making the process – which is emotionally stressful in any case – easier.”

MK Dr. Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) said that the reform in divorce “scares the wits out of the Jewish Home. Twice, I pulled my bill from the Ministerial Committee and the third time, a Coalition committee was formed – the result of which is the bill that is now being submitted again – this time as a governmental bill. This is a historic opportunity to cancel the marathon that causes the destruction of families and unnecessary harm to children... There is no other place in the world where the speed in suing for divorce determines who wins it. It is time for reform.”