The Supreme Court Thursday overruled the nation's rabbis and upheld the appointment of the first woman to a religious council in Israel.

The council's chairman in the southern town of Yeroham condemned the decision and threatened to resign if he is forced to implement it.The ruling of the three-justice panel marked an unusual intervention of secular courts in religious matters and followed a two-year battle by Leah Shakdiel, 36, who was prevented by rabbis from accepting the appointment to her hometown council.

The justices, who included a woman, Miriam Ben-Porat, ordered Shakdiel appointed to the council within 30 days, saying the rabbis' action was based on "considerations that are extraneous" to Israeli law.

Reacting to the ruling, an elated Shakdiel told reporters at the court: "I think this is a very big achievement for Israel, for religious Zionists and for women in Israel."

Shakdiel appealed to the court after Orthodox rabbis in Yeroham, a town of 6,000, refused to let her sit on the council. She was chosen for the position in March 1986 by left-leaning Labor Party city councilors.

Most Jewish communities in Israel have religious councils that administer synagogues, ritual baths and other religious affairs. The council members are chosen by local municipalities and are usually symbolically approved by the rabbis.

But in Yeroham, the rabbis blocked Shakdiel's appointment on the grounds that Orthodox tradition bars women from taking an active role in public religious affairs, such as leading prayers or interpreting laws.

The Orthodox rabbis have a monopoly on Jewish affairs in Israel and sole authority to minister rituals such as marriages and divorces.

Moshe Peretz, a rabbi who heads Yeroham's religious council responded with anger to the court ruling.

"The Supreme Court cannot force us to sit with a woman on the council. If the Religious Affairs Minister forces us then I will resign," Peretz said in an interview with army radio.

Peretz also criticized the court for intervening in religious matters.

"I don't force the justices to wear yarmulkas (religious skull caps) so they can't force me to sit with a woman on my council."