"It was probably something about the way I drew the strand of hair away from my face. The judge gave me a strange look and I knew that I was marked." That’s what an attorney appeared in court in Petah Tikva told me. And this is how she describes a conversation conducted in the rabbinical court:
"Is madam married?" asked the rabbinic judge.
"Yes" I replied.
"Madam knows that according to the regulations she must appear with a head covering?"
"Yes. But so far I've appeared without head covering. No one ever asked me to cover my hair."
The bailiff held a rag in his hand and said: "Here. Put this on you’re head".
"I'd rather not."
"Don’t worry," the bailiff told me as he pulled out another, "Take this one".
"It's required," announced the judge.
Since she did not want to hurt the interests of her client, the mortified attorney had no choice but to cover her head. She remembered that she had a bandanna in her car. So the parties reached a compromise: the lawyer went to get the bandana, the judges waited till she returned. Only then did they continue the hearing.
To wear or not wear
It is well known that in a particular tribunal in Petah Tikva, they refuse to hold a hearing if a married woman is present and her hair is not covered. A religiously observant attorney who just so happens to cover the head told me about a similar experience that she had before that very same tribunal when she appeared before them several years ago (before she was married) and was about her personal status.
"How do you know they wanted to cover you up?" I asked. "Maybe he was just interested in your personal life?" I suggested to the credit of the rabbinic judge. "It's very simple," explained the lawyer, laughing uproariously, "He already held the rag in his hand.
When I told another lawyer friend of mine about this, she wondered how the judges would treat her since she was married in a reform ceremony that is not recognized as valid under the halacha. Would the Petah Tikva Court also require her to cover her head? Or, since the Court does not recognize reform marriages, would she be allowed to appear without a head covering? We solved the problem: she doesn’t appear in Petah Tikva.
Well why not? Why shouldn’t they make women cover their heads? Why don’t the rabbinic judges have the right to determine the dress code of women? After all, the women appear before them!
So let’s be clear about things: First, the regulation that determines that "persons must appear before the Court in modest and appropriate clothing, including head-covering" no doubt refers to the demand for men to wear a skullcap. It can’t possibly be referring to women, since it is unthinkable to require unmarried women to cover their heads. And since the regulations don’t apply to women, and other courts don’t seem to be interpreting those regulations as applying to women - it is unacceptable that a lone judge will set down his own rules regarding his particular courtroom.
Second, it’s a mistake is to think that whoever comes within the four walls of the Rabbinic Court must dress in accordance with the demands of the judge, or even of the Court. Jewish citizens of the State of Israel have no choice about whether or not to appear before the Rabbinic Court since the law stipulates that citizens of Israel must divorce in the that court. So the Court can’t set its own dress code and impose it on those who come before them. Whatever is the public dress code for the civil courts or in the Knesset should be good enough for the Rabbinic Courts. If the courts were to privatize - the judges can do as they please.
So long as the Court is under the aegis of the state – a rabbinic judge can’t refrain from hearing the pleadings of a married attorney until she places a piece of cloth on her head.
But of course it is clear who is making the rules here and who is quietly taking orders. There is no doubt that women would wear anything they are told to wear – even a hijab – in order to receive the services that they need from the rabbinical court.
Rivkah Lubitch is a rabbinic pleader who works at the Center for Women's Justice, Tel: 972-2-5664390.