Chief Rabbi lobbied MKs over divorce bill

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar intervened in the political process this week when he tried to scupper a law that would have ensured women get equal parts of a couple's assets in divorce proceedings.

Rabbi Amar personally called up religious Knesset members to try and persuade them not to vote in favour of the new law.

The law, brought by Knesset members Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) and Michael Melchior (Labour), both religious MKs, would have allowed an early division of a couple's assets in cases in of protracted divorce proceedings or domestic violence. This would have replaced the current law which allows husbands to force their wives to agree to a disadvantageous division in return for a get. The ultra-Orthodox Knesset members and the Chief Rabbinate opposed the law on the grounds that it would mean a curtailment of the powers of the rabbinical court.

Rabbi Amar, who is also president of the Grand Rabbinical Court, personally made telephone calls to religious MKs, including those of the National Religious Party - National Union (NRP-NU), trying to dissuade them from supporting the law.

"He said that we were helping anti-religious forces erode the authority of the dayanim," one of the MKs, who preferred not to be identified, said. Despite Rabbi Amar's efforts, the NRP-NU announced that it would be voting for the bill. In the end, Shas, which has always backed Rabbi Amar, a protégé of its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, had to force the coalition whips on Monday to make the vote a no-confidence vote.
That meant it would be postponed by a week. As the Knesset began its summer recess on Wednesday, the law will not be voted on until the winter session in three months.

Rabbi Amar's office confirmed the details. His spokesperson Shami Praver said that "the Chief Rabbi sees it as his role to uphold the authority of the Beth Din and if that means trying to influence the Knesset member's votes, then it is also part of his job.

"Many religious MKs consult him on matters of state and religion and when he thinks it fit, he contacts them."

Last updated: 5:02pm, July 31 2008