Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Rabbinic Courts in Israel

Israel's High Court of Justice has ruled that Israel’s rabbinic courts may not resolve divorced couples' property and financial disputes unless they have explicit legal approval to do so. The Court rejected the rabbinic courts' authority to serve as arbitrators in financial disputes, even though both parties had agreed to the proceeding.

The Court held that the rabbinic courts' legal authority was limited by the provisions of the statute governing rabbinic court jurisdiction, and that no court could grant itself authority that it had not been granted by the law, even if the parties agreed. The High Court followed case law, whereby it intervenes in religious court decisions only in "extreme cases" in which the courts exceed their authority, deviate from the law relating to religious courts or impinge upon the principles of natural justice.

The new decision generates many difficulties regarding past rulings by rabbinic court judges who acted as arbitrators. In an editorial, the Haaretz newspaper has called upon Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, to give legislative validity to such prior rulings.