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Israel: Assistance Units for Religious Courts

(June 15, 2011) On May 16, 2011, the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) passed the Religious Courts (Assistance Units) Law, 5771-2011. The Law authorizes the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Welfare and Social Services to establish by decree “assistance units” adjacent to the rabbinical, Shari-a, Druze, and Christian communities' religious courts. Under the Israeli legal system, these courts have jurisdiction similar to that of the civil family courts in matters of marriage and divorce. Depending on the forum selected by the party who initiates the proceedings, religious courts also acquire jurisdiction in related issues, including child custody, guardianship, alimony, and spousal financial relations.

The assistance units, similarly to those operating in connection with the civil family courts, will provide assessment, consultation, and mediation services to litigants and the religious courts, with court experts in connection with family law matters within their jurisdiction. The Ministers, with the approval of the Knesset Committee for Constitution, Law, and Justice, will determine the assistance units' operational and procedural rules. Workers in the assistance units will be employees of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, but will be required to comply with the religious courts' directives on court referrals and with the rules established by the State Supervisor of assistance units in family courts regarding assistance units' professional services.

Religious courts are authorized, however, to reject recommendations made by the assistance units that contradict the courts' respective religious law. Additionally, the referral of a matter by the religious courts to the assistance units does not create any jurisdiction in addition to that specifically recognized by law. (Religious Courts (Assistance Units) Law, 5771-2011, & bill, the Knesset website (both in Hebrew & both last visited June 7, 2011).)