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Saturday, 12 May 2007

Freidmann poised to cancel rabbinic court appointments

Friedmann poised to cancel rabbinic court appointments

By Yair Ettinger and Yuval Yoaz <mailto:yuvaly@haaretz.co.il>

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz yesterday directed Justice Minister
Daniel Friedman to cancel the appointments of the 15 rabbinic court
judges selected six weeks ago, because of irregularities in the
appointment process.

Mazuz's decision was taken close to the deadline given to the Justice
Ministry to respond to petitions made to the High Court of Justice to
protest the appointments, and stems from the fact that some of the
judges are not certified.

The Justice Minister's bureau said that the minister's position, which
is to be presented to the High Court, is that the procedural claims
raised in the petitions can be dealt with, but that this might take
longer than reopening the discussion of the appointments in the Rabbinic
Judges Appointments Committee. The minister will therefore leave the
choice between the two possibilities up to the High Court, and says he
sees no problem in reopening the discussion.

Mazuz's decision is a blow to Shas and United Torah Judaism. These two
parties saw the appointment of 12 of 15 judges, who were selected during
the first round of the process, as a major victory - the outcome of a
deal that had been in the works for years, between the ultra-Orthodox
parties and their respective leaders, Rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Shlomo
Elyashiv.

Shas pointed out the technical nature of Mazuz's objections, primarily
his claim that most of the candidates' certification as religious court
judges had expired. Such certification must be renewed every two years.

"All abnormalities, if there were any, are the fault of the National
Religious Party, which did not act in good faith," said MK Eli Yishai,
Shas chair and a member of the Rabbinical Court Judges Appointments
Committee.

Shas and UTJ are accusing the Rabbinic Courts Administration, identified
with the NRP and responsible for certifying judges, for being at fault.

Organizations that had petitioned against the appointments - the modern
Orthodox rabbis' group Tzohar, women's groups including the Orthodox
organization Emunah, the Israel Bar Association and the Israel Religious
Action Center - welcomed Mazuz's decision. However, they noted that
judges still had to be chosen who would reflect a spectrum of opinions,
and not only those who met certain technical criteria.

Tzohar called on Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, who was instructed
by Mazuz to rescind the appointments, to fulfill his duty for the sake
of public interest "and not out of political manipulation."

"This is a victory in a battle, not in the war," commented MK Nissan
Slomiansky (NRP-National Union), a member of the appointments committee,
adding that the ball was now in Friedmann's court and that of the
ultra-Orthodox parties, and that the public "should bring pressure to
bear on them."

Yishai said he did not intended to concede in the face of Tzohar's call
for the ultra-Orthodox parties to "reconsider the appointment of
religious court judges, who are both suitable to the function and the
status [of the position in question] and also represent a variety of
views on halakha (Jewish law)."

According to the rules, Rabbinic Court judges must not only be experts
in religious law, but have "a general or legal education" and "knowledge
of languages." The regulations also state that preference will be given
to candidates "who are involved in Israeli society and who have served
in the army or been involved in public affairs."

The organizations that support Mazuz's move are concerned that any new
rabbis who may be hurriedly appointed will not meet these criteria any
more than did the earlier appointees. The groups also worry that the
ultra-Orthodox parties will now do everything in their power to prevent
the appointment of the three NRP candidates who were appointed in the
first round.

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