Israel 2019, at the mercy of the Chief Rabbinate

Rabbinical Court, Haifa

Akivah Eldar reports in Al-Monitor:

It happened in October 2019 in the Israeli city of Haifa. Not in Tehran and not in the old times. A rabbinical court ruled that two brothers, ages five and eight, be taken from their mother and handed over to the custody of their violent father. The mother was not accused of neglecting or corrupting them. Her “sin” was in signing them up for swimming therapy provided by a woman (not a man) and feeding them non-kosher food. The rabbinical judges ignored the welfare authorities’ recommendation that the children be left with their mother, as well as the children’s objections to moving in with their father.

Rabbinical judges, authorized and paid by a state that is considered modern and enlightened, gave custody of two helpless children to a father accused in the past of threatening his wife and convicted of threatening public servants. Indeed, the woman had violated her commitment to raise the children in accordance with a religious lifestyle. However, had she not made that commitment, she may not have been given custody since rabbinical judges have been known to prefer adherence to the way of the Torah instead of the welfare of the child.

The governmental website of the Chief Rabbinate specifically states that rabbinical courts adjudicate in accordance with the laws of the Torah and specific instructions of state law. Members of the Chief Rabbinical Council pledge allegiance solely to the State of Israel, not to its laws. This, despite the fact that according to Israel’s civil law, the Chief Rabbinate’s task is to “carry out activities to bring the public closer to the values of the Torah and of mitzvahs.” The laws of the State of Israel grant rabbinical courts sole jurisdiction over issues of Jewish marriage and divorce. They also have the same authority that civil district courts have in matters of personal status, alimony, child support, custody, and more.

The world view guiding the rabbinical judges is that of religious law, whereas most of those who come before them are of the secular persuasion. The rabbinical court is authorized to adjudicate on issues of child custody (and property), unless one of the partners files a custody petition with a family court prior to the start of divorce proceedings. In fact, once a couple decides to divorce, the couple could address either the rabbinical court or the civil family court for the issues of child custody and alimonies. Often this turns into a disagreement, as the father/husband would prefer the rabbinical court, while the mother/wife would prefer the civil one. In family court, the opinion of the welfare professionals regarding the child’s well-being generally outweighs any other consideration.

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