The Rabbinical Court – different from what you think!?
Many people are of the opinion that the Rabbinical Court is a dull and drab institution where the people there are caught up in antiquated chauvinistic, anachronistic ways of thinking. I believe that most of the community has a mistaken conception about the way the Rabbinical Court is conducted and about its place in our society.
Here are a few concrete examples of the Rabbinical Court’s approach to some recent central issues; examples which should suffice to disperse the stigma attached to the Rabbinical Court.
In Favor of the Child
Recently I represented a woman in the Rabbinical Court. Her husband claimed that she had been unfaithful to him. He further claimed that in view of her unfaithfulness she wasn’t fit to impart proper moral values to the children and therefore was untitled to custody of the children and consequently this custody should be transferred to him.
The woman claimed, on the other hand, that she deserved to be the rightful custodian because she was attentive to their needs and always available to children.
What was the Rabbinical Court’s decision? Well! The Rabbinical Court appointed a psychologist to advise on rightful custody in this case. The psychologist, not at all religious, even very liberal in her outlook, was well qualified to judge the best interests of the children. She wisely discerned the presence of irrelevant slander in the dispute and categorically advised in favor of the mother having custody of the children on the grounds that she was more aware of their needs and more sensitive to their feelings. The Court completely accepted the expert’s advice and paid no attention to the husband’s claim of unfaithfulness.
In considering this conflict the court only has the welfare of the child in mind, namely to carefully examine which of the parents will best fulfill the needs and sensitivities of the child. The court’s examination was swift and thorough; the expert gave her opinion in less than 21 days and the court passed its decision within a day or two afterwards. The court’s decision was that the woman’s guilt wasn’t a factor to be taken into account when considering the welfare of the children in the matter of custody.
How does the Family Court consider this dispute?? In the family court the examination of rightful custodian of the children isn’t done by an expert psychologist, but by a social worker. The appointment of a social worker by the Ministry of Social Welfare is a tedious and long drawn out process. Several months pass from the time the court appoints a social worker until the opinion is given. In some cases in Israel the process takes more than 6 months, a time when the couple, in constant and harsh conflict must live under the same roof and suffer unbearably.
In this case the Rabbinical Court acted much more swiftly and efficiently than the Family Court and put aside any considerations of adultery as irrelevant for the sake of the well-being of the child.
Dividing up the Property
The Rabbinical Court’s attitude to the way a couple divides their property has also undergone many changes.
This writer recently represented a woman, in the Rabbinical Court, whose husband claimed that she had committed adultery and because of that, according to him, she should forfeit her share in his social welfare rights.
This claim was rejected outright by the Rabbinical Court, making it clear that its procedure is bound by the law of monetary relationships and referred the matter to the Court of Supreme Instances (Bagatz). The Rabbinical Court made it clear to the man that there was no point in continuing the relationship and that he is obliged to accept rehabilitation treatment after the divorce and to get assistance from professionals. Naturally the Rabbinical Court asserted that the adultery was not relevant in the case of division of property held jointly. The court passed judgment that the property was to be divided equally and the matter of blame was not relevant in this case.
Human and Economic Needs of a Couple and their Children
Recently a case was brought before the Rabbinical Court in which this writer represented the woman, a day laborer who earned minimum wages and who lived with her husband in an apartment in Lydda, whose husband sought divorce and the sale of the apartment of small value.
This apartment was all she possessed and she lived there with her children. The husband had left the apartment several years previously. The Rabbinical Court decided that under no circumstances was the apartment, which served her and her children as a shelter, to be sold and referred the couple’s matter to the handling of the representative of the community to which they belonged.
I have no doubt that the Family Court would have had a completely different approach. In accordance with Land Law, the chances are that the court would order the sale of the apartment and a division of the small amount of money that would have resulted from the sale. Naturally a decision like this would have been catastrophic for the woman and her children.
It is not the intention of this writer to make a generalization that the Rabbinical Court is always preferable to the Family Court in the examination of separation cases. Naturally one must thoroughly examine which cases are better handled by the Rabbinical Court and which by the Family Court.
It is often advisable to separate the issues at hand, some to be handled by the Rabbinical Court and others by the Family Court. But very often we find that the judges in the Rabbinical Court have more empathy, and a greater readiness to move forward to end a conflict in a more deliberate and forthright manner and with greater professionalism than the Family Court.