The Rabbinic Court and Child Support Payments — Really!?
When you cry out that women will be hurt if the coalition successfully passes a bill reversing the Supreme Court order that the Rabbinic Court not handle child support payment determinations, then you may have to consider whether or not you are responding in knee-jerk fashion to the words “coalition,” “Rabbinic Court,” and “law [reform]”and not from a position of understanding the issue at hand.
Oh! The posts I have seen decrying the possibility of this bill passing, a bill comprising small amendments to a long-existing law that includes formalization of all the Rabbinic Court spheres of activity in marriage and divorce.
Social media posts in English and in Hebrew say this bill would not be not good for women, to state it mildly.
I definitely have issues with the Rabbinic Courts and am not going to suggest that there is no reason to protest aspects of their behaviour and to wish for bills that would result in improvements to the services they offer both the religious and non-religious public in Israel. But I also believe in attention to details and accuracy in presentation of arguments. And in picking one’s battles. And this battle is one I do not believe should be fought, and certainly not with the vehemence it is being awarded. In fact, I don’t think there is reason to even call it a battle.
Let me first show you a call to protest tomorrow (Wednesday, 19 July) and then explain why I think this is all based on total misunderstanding.
From now: Publications in the civil service will include only the masculine [as opposed to including both feminine and masculine forms of verbs. The current call to protest does not include this point at all]
In the future: Planning to transfer to the Rabbininc Courts authority over determining child support payments.
In Purple on the right-hand side: You are obliged to protest. On the left side: Wednesday, 18:00, opposite the USA Embassy, a huge demonstration
I do wonder why they are selecting to protest opposite the American Embassy, which is not really an embassy, is it? Isn’t the embassy now in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, it is, what the American Embassy website refers to as a “branch office”? But in any case, why there? Why not in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem? Does that not make more sense? Since I don’t believe in these things being accidental, there must be some reason for the location of the protest.
In a WhatsApp group, the organizers declare: “The whole world will see that Israeli women will not be oppressed.” There you have it; it seems the demonstration is for the whole world and not for the coalition proposing the bill.
And the rationale for the demonstration as explained in the invitation above: “They are planning to transfer the authority for determining child support payments to the Rabbinic Court.” This is a patently absurd comment to make. The Rabbinic Court has had the authority to determine child support payments since the Rabbinic Court Law was first passed in 1953.
Protestors seem to be unaware of that fact. Some have also told me that the proposed bill will make it so that ALL child support determinations will be made by the Rabbinic Court. That is simply not true.
Religious Services Minister Michael Malkieli, says that the bill merely clarifies the language of the law (link to the law in Hebrew: Amendments to Rabbinic Court Law for Marriage and Divorce). For your ease, I have listed the three changes proposed upon which the Knesset will vote:
- Changing the numbering on sections of the law related to child support payments
- Until now, the law related to “spouse and child support payments” but since these are separate issues and should not be covered as if one and the same, they will be listed as “spousal suppport payments” and “child support payments”
- The amendment seeks to clarify that “child support payments” includes all past and future financial requirements until the age at which the parent is no longer obligated to financially support their offspring. These include lodging, education, medical and all other expenditures for necessities and not just as reimbursement of expenses between the parents.
Given that these are the proposed amendments, why is the uproar? Mako published an article in which they claimed that “allowing” the Rabbinic Court to determine child support will set back women’s rights by decades. Times of Israel say that this bill is “another step toward theocracy and an attempt to compromise women’s rights, which they said would be jeopardized in the rabbinical court because halacha, Jewish law, favors men.”
Guy Raveh, chair of the NGO Shared Parenting=Best Interests of the Child.wrote an op-ed in Hebrew in Yisrael Hayom, challenging that view. In it, he explains the situation:
“In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the Rabbinical Court has the authority to discuss child support only when there is the express consent of both parents. In the absence of consent, child support will be determined in the Family Court.”
But there was no legislation on this matter and therefore it is not a matter of law at all. That means that the Rabbinic Court was free to carry on as before and, in fact, Raveh notes that that is what they did: There was never a point in time when the Rabbinic Court had exclusive jurisdiction over child support decisions and that is not anticipated to change, regardless of claims of articles such as the Times of Israel piece.
“In 2021, the Great Rabbinical Court issued a ruling according to which the Supreme Court’s decision does not bind the rabbi, and child support can continue to be discussed as before.”
In other words, there was no law taking away the Rabbinic Court authority to discuss child support payments and so no law is necessary to give it back as some think the current bill proposes to do.
Raveh notes another interesting development in the competition between the Rabbinic and Family Courts:
“In 2017, the Supreme Court published a new guideline for calculating the amount of child support over the age of 6, which states that the salary of both the child’s parents must be taken into account, along with the custody arrangement schedule.”
Since then, the mother’s salary is also taken into account in Family Court but Rabbinic Court, operating according to religious law, does not do so. This has led to the situation that, regarding child support payments, it is better for mothers to go to Rabbinic Court and fathers to go to Family Court.
“So it is true,” Raveh continues, “many misunderstand the situation and present the measure as further harm to women – as is customary to present in the context of the conduct of the Rabbinic Courts. But as mentioned, this bill actually works in favor of the mothers, and in most cases the amount of child support that will be determined by the rabbi is higher than the amount that will be determined in family court, when it comes to children over the age of 6.”
Claiming that a law will harm women and going out to publicly protest that law when, in fact, it does not harm women — not this particular law, that is — does not help the cause. In fact, it makes a farce of the claim to be protecting women’s rights. Please be careful what you demonstrate against in order not to dilute your protests.