The High Court of Justice on Monday extended the freeze in permanent appointments of dayanim (rabbinical judges) by five months.
The decision was made following a petition filed by the Emunah – the National Religious Women's Organization, alongside other women's organizations – including the Center for Women's Justice, the Israel Women's Network and Kolech – against the absence of women in the committee appointing rabbinical judges.
The High Court discussion was held following an interim order freezing the appointments, which was issued by High Court judges about a year ago, and in response to Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman's decision not to convene the committee choosing dayanim during the election campaign.
The High Court judges noted that the freeze would continue until the State fixed the flaws, and urged the Knesset to advance legislation promoting proper representation of women on the committee.
Justice Elyakim Rubsintein said during the discussion, "You should let Knesset members know that there are pending petitions, which are waiting – among other things – for the Knesset members' opinion."
Sources in the petitioning organizations said that in spite of Knesset initiatives to advance egalitarian legislation, such attempts have been thwarted more than once by lawmakers from the Shas faction, who regularly appeal the bills.
Meanwhile, rabbinical courts announced Monday that they were on the verge of collapse due to a serious manpower shortage, and that no progress had been made since the High Court issued the interim order about a year ago.
According to figures compiled by the courts, since the freeze the period of time required to handle cases has been extended to 102 days, the production of rulings has dropped by 13%, and in some courts the number of panels discussing the cases has been reduced.
In a letter sent to rabbinical judges, Israel's Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar wrote: "There have been no appointments to the courts for a long time, there have been no appointments to the Rabbinical Court for Appeals for 42 months, and there have been no appointment for the regional courts for 18 months.
According to the chief rabbi, "The public is suffering greatly. Some are waiting for their rulings, while others are waiting to complete their business and suffering. Because there are missing panels in many places, we are seeing delay of justice and unnecessary suffering, and everyone is asking when will this end?"
Rabbi Shlomo Deichovsky, director of the rabbinical courts, suggested furthering legislation which would allow each of the bodies on the committee selecting dayanim to appoint "a woman or maybe even two."
The rabbi said Sunday that "rabbinical judges are dealing with double the amount of work, which may put them in a state of collapse, in light of the serious shortage of dayanim compared to the number of cases which just keeps on growing.
"The first people to suffer are our clients, who are forced to wait for court hearings for a long time instead of being dealt with as soon as possible… Judges must be appointed as soon as possible, and in light of the given situation I suggest advancing legislation allowing each of the three bodies to appoint a woman, or maybe even two women."
Attorney Alona Tal from the Center for Women's Justice said in response to Rabbi Deichovsky's suggestion, "We were glad to hear the rabbi's stand that up to six women can be appointed to the committee selecting rabbinical judges.
"We call for suitable legislation and appointments with the hopes that by the time we return to the court after the elections, our petition will have become redundant."