Hiddush in the legal trenches

Court rules against rabbinical court judge for "Writ of Refusal"

Hiddush's legal advocacy continues, with its submission of a petition to the Supreme Court against the IDF for religiously coercing soldiers to keep kosher on Passover, as well as yet another petition on behalf of an Israeli couple married legally via videoconference in Utah County, Utah.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, by: Asaf AntmanUltra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, source: Asaf Antman
  1. Recently, a court ruled that compensation of 60,000 NIS is to be paid by Rabbi Shimon Gutman, a judge in a private rabbinical court in the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, to an ultra-Orthodox woman living in the city. Rabbi Gutman’s court had issued a "Writ of Refusal" (excommunication notice) against her because she dared to file a lawsuit in civil court against her family’s upstairs neighbor who extended his balcony over their apartment illegally. The court ruled in favor of the family in a criminal proceeding against Rabbi Gutman, which Hiddush aided in launching, following the landmark petition we filed several years ago in the Supreme Court on behalf of the ultra-Orthodox woman who turned to us for help.

    She and her family had been threatened and harmed for her turning to a civil court to receive remedy, after both the Haredi municipality and the police failed her, rather than subjecting herself to a private rabbinical court. The court now emphasized the precedent-setting significance of the petition Hiddush filed with the Supreme Court and the fact that this is the first time in Israel’s history that rabbinical court judges have been prosecuted in a criminal case for issuing “Writs of Refusal” that illegally interfere with the basic civil right of access to court and due process. The court emphasized the fact that the rabbinical court judges had refused to cancel the “Writ of Refusal” up to the stage at which they were prosecuted criminally. Also, the court expressed its hope that its ruling would ensure that there will be no more such cases of serious harm caused by rabbinic judges to Israeli citizens who want to exercise their legal rights in Israel’s state civil courts due to a religious view that considers the civil courts as "courts of the Gentiles", in which Jews must not seek legal remedy. If more such cases occur, the court stated, then even more severe sanctions should be applied.
  2. Yesterday we submitted the petition to the Supreme Court regarding Passover kashrut severe restrictions at IDF bases. As noted in the editorial, there is important symbolic and practical significance in that this petition was filed in advance of International Human Rights Day. Freedom of religion cannot be taken seriously if we are not willing to also recognize the right to freedom from religion. This aspect of the struggle for “Freedom of Religion and Conscience”, promised in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, focuses on the individual's right to protection from having his freedom of conscience and religion violated. For example, by forcing religious norms and imposing restrictions on religious grounds. Hiddush’s petition does not dispute the importance of ensuring kosher food for IDF soldiers and maintaining the IDF dining rooms, kitchens, and cafeterias strictly kosher. However, this strictness cannot be extended to soldiers’ private possessions, nor to preventing them from consuming food as they wish, as long as this does not prevent those that keep kosher from doing so. In the last newsletter we detailed examples of the hardships caused to soldiers over the Military Rabbinate’s excessive policy.

    The petition was filed by us on our behalf, as well as on behalf of 14 parents of children who are serving in the military or are scheduled to enlist soon. These are secular families, which represent the largest Jewish demographic in Israel. And, in addition to them, we are representing an organization active in this field - the Secular Forum. In the petition, Hiddush presented the halakhic basis for the position that the prohibition on the possession and sight of chametz on Pesach applies only to chametz in the possession of those who keep kosher - not to chametz in the possession of others, whether Jews or not. This halakhic principle seems to be of no interest to the IDF rabbinate, which abuses its authority and the complicity they enjoy from the IDF top brass to force religious norms upon non-religious soldiers, extending the Passover prohibitions beyond what is allowed by law and by military rules, conducting searches and confiscating food in the private possession of soldiers illegally. This not only infringes on their religious freedom; it also adversely impacts the diet of soldiers that need special food for medical reasons and those serving in remote combat units.
  3. Utah Marriages - Hiddush started working on another case of a couple that got married via videoconference in Utah County, Utah. Of course, the Population Authority is refusing to register them as married, just as it is refusing to register the hundreds of other Israeli couples who have already married this way. We intend to file another petition on behalf of this couple if the Population Authority does not accept our demand to register them as married. This case is unique, beyond the other 9 couples we are representing in administrative petitions in the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv courts, because they held their wedding ceremony via Utah county while on vacation in Slovenia. Meaning – they were married outside of Israel. The main legal argument, and, in fact, the only one, which the Ministry of the Interior and the State Attorney's Office have raised in their responses to the courts, is that marriage via Utah County is different than all other civil marriages that the Supreme Court ordered them to register in the last 60+ years: In all the other cases, they claim, the couples were physically present at the overseas marriage venue (even in the case where they were physically in Israel at the time, but married through a proxy in El Salvador). However, in Utah marriages, couples only attend their ceremonies via videoconferencing; and therefore, the Population Authority considers them as if they were married in Israel. For Jewish couples in Israel, they maintain, the law allows only one way to get married: through Israel’s Orthodox Rabbinate. We completely disagree with the legal interpretation that the state gives to the law; and we reject its refusal to recognize that videoconferencing is legally valid in Utah and that these weddings are officially registered with the State of Utah’s marriage registry as taking place in Utah. However, in this new case, this Israeli couple was not in Israel at the time of the marriage, and therefore this provision does not apply to them at all. Incidentally, in the case of this couple, the wife is also an American citizen, and therefore – the violation of their right to have their US marriage registered with the Israeli Population Registry is twofold.

    Another important development regarding the battle for the recognition of the right to marry in Israel in general, and by Utah County marriage in particular, is JPLAN's (The Jewish Pluralism Legal Action Network) intention to apply to join the legal proceedings as a "Friend of the Court". We are happy about this initiative, which reflects the importance of this lawyers’ network of Israel supporters, who see the critical importance of promoting religious freedom and freedom of marriage in Israel. This time, it is further significant, since these weddings are being conducted in the USA and are recognized by its federal authorities, but Israel refuses to recognize them due to a political deal to force the entire Jewish public in Israel to bow to the authority of the monopolistic Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

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