As readers even slightly familiar with Family Law in Israel know, in Israel there exists a system of more or less parallel jurisdiction between religious courts (Muslim, Jewish and some Christian groups) and the Family Court. Thus, a Jewish couple seeking a dissolution of their marriage in the State of Israel must at some point go through the Rabbinic Court, which in certain cases may also have jurisdiction to deal with issues of children, spousal support and division of property.
While most court system are plagued by delays, the delays in the Rabbinic Court system are worse than those in the Family Courts; it’s not infrequent to be called for a hearing at 9:00 am and not walk into the courtroom until noon.
Just to give a taste of the discrepancy between what’s happening in the general court system as opposed to the Rabbinic Court system, take a look at these statistics:
In 1960 the general population of the State of Israel was 2,150,400 and there were 129 judges in the general court system.
In 2013 the general population of the state was 8,134,500 and the number of judges 652.
Meaning, over the same period in which the population increased 3.78 times, there was a five-fold increase in the number of judges.
By contrast, since 1960 the Jewish population of the State of Israel – the population served by the Rabbinic Courts – increased 3.2 times, while the total number of dayanim increased only 1.4 times.
The following chart tells the story quite clearly. The red line indicates the general population, the green the Jewish population, the blue the number of dayanim and the yellow the number of judges.
Anyone working in the system can tell you that the problem is particularly acute in the Supreme Rabbinic Court which is more or less paralyzed for a shortage of dayanim. Unfortunately, that can be used as a tactic by some of my less scrupulous colleagues; if you want to really mess up a file these days and create an endless delay, just file an appeal against a decision of the Regional Rabbinic Court with the Supreme Rabbinic Court, since the appeal won’t be heard for at least a half a year. There are supposed to be nine dayanim in theSupreme Rabbinic Court – two Chief Rabbis and seven dayanim. Five positions are currently not filled, meaning that the two Chief Rabbis hear cases, along with only two permanently appointed dayanim.
At the same time, there is currently a shortage of 23 dayanim in the Regional Rabbinic Court, meaning positions which are vacant. Recently the temporary director of the Rabbinic Court system, Adv. Rabbi Shimon Ya’akobi, called for the establishment of a committee to appoint new dayanim for the Supreme Rabbinic Court and for the immediate appointment of 23 new dayanim in the Regional Rabbinic Courts. In addition to filling the positions, the increase in both population and divorce rates requires that another 10-20% positions be budgeted for the Rabbinic Courts.
Why hasn’t this happened until now? There is a long answer, but suffice to say the short answer is that, in Israel, as in Israel, it’s for reasons of political jostling.
Meanwhile, while the powers that be tangle, people who need – and have a right to – the services of the Rabbinic Court suffer. Due to the fact that a legally constituted Beit Din consists of three sitting dayanim, it’s not infrequent, as I can testify personally from my own work, to wait around for hours to for a hearing to begin, only to find that there is only one dayan present. Under those circumstances, it is not possible to make operative legal decisions, only to attempt to bring the parties to agreement.
Let’s hope that this relatively new government does what it takes to make the necessary appointments. So far, it doesn’t look good.