In a historic decision, the Knesset on Tuesday voted in favor of an amendment to the Religious Judges Law, mandating that women serve on the religious judges' nomination committee -- a panel which has been dominated by men since its inception in the 1950s.
The bill passed its second and third readings following a tumultuous session in the Knesset, as well as a filibuster by the ultra-Orthodox parties, whose members vehemently opposed the amendment, dragging the vote until the early hours of Tuesday morning. The bill passed at 4 a.m.
The religious judges' nomination committee was first set up in 1951, during the term of the second Knesset. The Religious Judges Law, regulating its operation, was enacted in 1955.
The law states that the committee, which operates by proxy of the Justice Ministry, will be chaired by the justice minister and comprise 10 members, including the two chief rabbis of Israel, two Rabbinical Supreme Court judges, a government-appointed minister, two Knesset members and two members of the Israel Bar Association. All are currently male.
The absence of women on the committee has been at the center of a lengthy legal battle, including several High Court of Justice petitions seeking to end the committee's exclusion of women.
The amendment, promoted by Knesset members Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), Shuli Mualem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) and Meretz Chairwoman MK Zehava Gal-On, mandates that at least four women be included in the committee, including a female advocate in the religious courts, and raises the number of committee members to 11.
"The new law will rectify the current, warped situation, in which only men get to decide on issues that have a considerable impact on women's lives," Gal-On said.
"The [religious] courts are dominated by reactionary rabbis, who have proven records of discriminating against women, of blackmailing women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce, and of ignoring the letter of the law on the division of marital assets. These rabbis see a woman as a man's property and clearly favor men in their rulings."
Gal-On said that including women on the committee "will help balance its decisions and will give women's unique needs and the issues they deal with when facing the rabbinical courts a voice."
The national-religious women's organization Emunah ("Faith") also welcomed the new law.
"Emunah has waged this battle for over two years and this is clear-cut proof that if you have faith in the path you pursue you will prevail," Emunah Chairwoman Liora Minka said Tuesday.
"Our battle may have caused delays in the rabbinical courts, but this is the silver lining. Hopefully all of the rabbis who insist on waging unnecessary wars against the inclusion of women in the religious judges' nomination committee, the state kashrut supervision system, the [municipal] religious councils and any other religious body, will now realize that there is no halachic flaw or anti-religious sentiment in allowing women to be represented."