The distribution of powers between the state and religious groups plays an important role in shaping how controversies over multicultural toleration and women’s rights under religious law can be resolved. Some structures encourage dialogue while others make it difficult. In Israel, the presence of multiple systems of personal religious law limits the possibilities for the transformation of discriminatory religious laws. There is no civil marriage or divorce in Israel. When the modern State of Israel was created, exclusive power over family law disputes involving Jewish citizens was placed in the hands of rabbinical courts. This arrangement has been called one to retain the ‘status quo’. However, it was not a continuation of Jewish tradition or of the arrangements in place during the long period of Ottoman rule in Palestine. It reflected strengthened powers that had been given to rabbinical courts during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine. This article will trace the ways in which British policies for colonial rule and the interests of Jewish religious leaders coalesced to create a regime of religious family law that is resistant to feminist demands for change.