In order to create a reality of significant equality for women in all areas of life, including in religious life, the Rackman Center works to promote appropriate representation of women both in and outside the religious establishment. Women have the right to be part of religious life and to take part in how it is shaped. The inclusion of women in key positions in religious life will help eliminate discriminatory perceptions of women.
The Electoral Assembly of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is the competent authority for election of the Chief Rabbis of Israel and members of the Chief Rabbinate Council. This body is predominantly made up of men, as most of the members of the Assembly are those who serve as rabbis and as heads of municipal governments.
To change this and include more women in the Electoral Assembly, the Rackman Center filed a petition with the High Court together with Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah before the elections to the Chief Rabbinate Council in 2018. In the petition, we asked to order the Chief Rabbis of Israel to appoint women who are “engaged in religion and Jewish law” as members of the Electoral Assembly, as part of the personal appointment quota of rabbis who do not serve in an official position, specified in the law. Membership on the Electoral Assembly is not a religious position, but a public position and, therefore, there is nothing in Jewish law preventing women from playing a significant role in the election of the Chief Rabbis and members of the Chief Rabbinate Council.
In August 2018, the High Court rejected the petition, claiming laches due to proximity to the date of the elections. That said, Judge Neal Hendel, who was a member of the panel of judges, ruled that, indeed, there was no appropriate representation of women on the Electoral Assembly, and added, “The petition gives rise to material, important and appropriate questions worthy of in-depth examination.” The judge further ruled that the petitioners’ rights were reserved and that they could petition on this matter again about one year prior to the next elections. Judge Daphne Barak-Erez signed her ruling with the words, “The women who want religious services and to study Torah are part of the miracle of the rebirth of the People of Israel in their homeland. This should also be reflected on the Chief Rabbinate’s Electoral Assembly.”
Up until recently, women were prevented from serving as legal assistants in the rabbinical courts. In August 2018, a landmark decision was made when the administration of the rabbinical courts and the Civil Service Commission announced the appointment of a woman to the position of legal assistant in the rabbinical courts for the first time.
The decision followed a motion for an injunction that the Rackman Center and ITIM filed in 2015 with the Labor Court by Adv. Moriah Dayan for discrimination and exclusion of women from the position of legal assistant in the rabbinical courts. In the motion, we demanded that special tenders be held for women, after women who submitted responses to tenders were rejected repeatedly.
We hope that this appointment is harbinger for true and full inclusion of women in the rabbinical court system.
The bylaws of the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and Agudat Yisrael, included a clause that prevented women from becoming party members. As a result, Adv. Tamar Ben Porath petitioned the High Court to have Agudat Yisrael change this clause that discriminates against women and excludes them from the party. Numerous women’s organizations, including the Rackman Center, joined the petition.
At the end of a lengthy proceeding, drawn out over several years, Agudat Yisrael announced that it would remove the formal barrier to accepting women as party members from its bylaws.
In parallel with the petition against Agudat Yisrael, ultra-Orthodox activist, Ms. Ruth Kolian filed a petition against Shas with the same demand. The Rackman Center represented Ms. Kolian in her petition. In a meeting prior to the elections for the 21st Knesset, Shas declared that it does not discriminate against women with respect to party membership and, by doing so, ended the petition.
The petitions removed the formal barriers, and now we need to continue to work towards membership of women in the ultra-Orthodox parties and even their appointment by the ultra-Orthodox parties as members of Knesset.