In 2014, an Israeli lawyer named Batya Kahana-Dror applied to become the director of Israel’s rabbinic courts. She was rejected and informed that the position was open only to candidates who have served as religious court judges or who are qualified to be municipal rabbis, both jobs available exclusively to men. Joined by two civil rights organizations, she petitioned Israel’s High Court. Earlier this week, the court found in her favor, agreeing with an opinion by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit that argued that while religious jobs are exempt from anti-discrimination laws, the director’s position was inherently an administrative one and as such must be open to men and women alike.
Issuing new criteria for the position, the court said the job should be available to anyone experienced in arguing before the rabbinic court, which women are currently permitted to do, or any lawyer with a relevant background in Jewish law. Candidates must also lead a religiously observant life.
“The possibility of a woman being at the top of the administrative pyramid in a system whose administrative spine is comprised primarily of men is important in itself and implements the value of equality,” wrote the three justices, Elyakim Rubinstein, Uri Shoham and Menachem Mazuz.
The court had initially instructed the Ministry of Religious Services to change its hiring criteria, but when attempts at revamped legislation in the Knesset fell flat, it stepped in and issued its groundbreaking ruling.
The decision, said Kahana-Dror, “constitutes a historic jump forward in the area of religion and state, and an important achievement in the struggle for the rights of women in the Rabbinical Court system.” She added that she was “happy that I had the honor to head this important proceeding to improve the status of women in Israel,” one that would also “strengthen the values of Judaism and democracy.”
Last month, a woman, Michal Goldstein, was appointed as the rabbinic court’s deputy director, another important first.