In a heated debate, attorney Batya Kahana-Dror—who petitioned the high court and is currently vying for the position of Rabbinical Courts director—and Rabbi Dov Halbertal, former Head of the Office of the Chief Rabbi of Israel, deliberate whether a woman should be allowed the fill the position.
"I meet the criteria," Kahana-Dror said. "In a situation in which 50 percent of the litigants are women, a special effort should be made to find a woman who will meet the criteria that the High Court of Justice designed in this ruling."
On the opposing side, Halbertal argued that "the court acted in an immoral manner that is not judicial. The dayanim (rabbinical court judges) are in on the level of a Supreme Court or a District Court, and the High Court Justices come and give them instructions."
Halbertal was then asked about the reasons for his opinion, to which he offered a resolute stance, much to the displeasure of Kahana-Dror: This is not a job for a woman.
Why do you think a woman cannot be appointed to a managerial position?
"There are two issues here," Halbertal continued. "First, when the Rabbinical Courts administration, which is autonomous, determines that it does not want a woman, the court cannot intervene.
"Second, there is a matter of modesty. These are Rabbis, Torah scholars, dayanim, who have to come into contact with the director of the Rabbinical Courts, and therefore it is not appropriate for the director to be a woman."
But Kahana-Dror rejected Halbertal's claims, insisting that they were predicated on little more that demagogic arguments.
"For over 15 years I have appeared at least three times a week with dayanim," she said. "The court burn the candle at both ends. On the one hand, it is an institution of the state with a monopoly on all marriages and divorces, and on the other hand, it will not accept democratic and liberal values of equality and preference for women."
Do you not think that a woman can be a good manager?
“She could be wonderful, Rabbi Halbertal said. "But just as there is the concept of a registrar, who is in a senior position, like at least a magistrate, the director of the Rabbinical Court is not merely an administrative position.”
Listing some of the responsibilities with which a dayan is burdened, Halbertal said, “It needs to be someone who has a status parallel to that of the dayanim.”
Can a woman not hold that parallel status?
“She cannot understand halacha (Jewish law),” he answered forthrightly, to which Kahana-Dror offered her rebuttal.
“A woman makes claims every day on halachic matters. You are in denial about this but that is the reality. The dayanim rule in accordance with our claims. There is a denial of what actually happens, and a type of conservatism that has no place,” he exclaimed.
Today, women sit on the Committee for the Appointment of dayanim. Is that ok?
Rabbi Halbertal contended that the state had imposed such realities on the rabbinical courts before turning to Kahana-Dror in an attempt to quash further discussion.
“I will tell you this: Read my lips. There will never be a female rabbi. Orthodox Judaism will draw the line there and it simply won’t happen.”