Latest Articles & Research

Sabbath and Jewish Holiday law

By Religion and State, Shabbath No Comments

Nadav Eliash

In recent years the Knesset has seen a number of proposed laws, based on the Gavison-Medan Covenant, meant to regulate the status of the Sabbath in Israel. To date, no such law has been passed.

The covenant seeks to regulate matters of state and religion on the basis of consensus among religious and secular and includes a long section devoted to the Sabbath, concluding with an agreement based on limitation of trade and industry alongside the opening of entertainment, cultural, and leisure venues. The Covenant also calls for a limited amount of public transportation on the Sabbath.

This position paper presents the theoretical background behind the need for a law to regulate the status of the Sabbath in Israel. Read More

The Conversion Crisis in Israel

By Conversion, Religion and State No Comments

Ariel Finkelstein

As a result of the opening of the immigration floodgates over the past two decades, there are currently some 318,000 citizens of Israel classified as without religion or as Christians who identify with the Jewish majority. Within 15 years that number will reach approximately 400,000. This situation creates problems and challenges for the State of Israel, both in terms of the specific citizens’ personal statuses and in national terms.

Even though following the 2008 recommendations of the Halfon Committee on conversion Israel has invested great resources in the official conversion mechanism and despite the natural increase in candidates for conversion, there has been a decrease in the number of converts over the past few years. Even before this, the number of converts had been below expectations. Read More

The Race for Jurisdiction

By Marriage, Religion and State No Comments

By: Ariel Finkelstain, Arieh Ulman

Assisted: Roy Yellinek, Daniel Wildlansky

The first chapter of this position paper will present the legal background, the current situation, and the implications of the issue commonly known as the “race for jurisdiction.” The existing legal situation in Israel has the rabbinical courts as the only system authorized to settle divorce cases and the giving of a get. The attendant issues in the divorce (property division, custody, and alimony) can be decided in either the rabbinical or the family courts. The crucial element in deciding which legal system will resolve disputes on these matters is a chronological test: the system in which the first claim was made is the system which will hear the case. Read More

The Israeli Shabbath

By Religion and State, Shabbath No Comments

By Nadav Eliash, Aviad Hominer, Eyal Berger, Ariel Finkelstain

The Israeli Sabbath – a proposal for normalizing the status of the Sabbath in Israel in keeping with the Gavison-Medan Covenant.

The debate over the status of the Sabbath has been raging in Israel since the advent of Zionism. The first Zionist settlements in Israel debated the nature of public observance of the Sabbath. Central to the debate was a vision of the public space in the renewed Jewish community and the Sabbath served as an important and concrete symbol. The battle over the Sabbath atmosphere has continued until today, and no proposed formula for respecting the Sabbath in the public domain has gained general acceptance.

In recent years many attempts have been made to reach such an agreement and to word a law which will structure and formulate the status of the Sabbath as a day of rest. Such a formulation would benefit the public and would protect the unique character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. The attempt which achieved the widest acceptance was that of Prof. Ruth Gavison and Rabbi Yaakov Medan, whose Gavison-Medan Covenant was published in 2003.

This position paper will provide an overview of the status of the Sabbath in Israel, 2014.With this status in focus, we will propose a law to normalize the public character of the Sabbath consistent with the terms of the Gavison-Medan Covenant. Read More

The Kashrut Structure – An overview, obstacles, and the proposed “State Privatization” solution

By Kashrut, Religion and State No Comments
Written by Assaf Greenwald, Noam Benaiah, and Ester Brown-Ben David

With the Assistance and Guidance of Ariel Finkelstain

Israeli lawmakers have granted the Chief Rabbinate and the local rabbinates exclusive privileges on matters of kashrut certification and importation of kosher food. This legal situation (in common with most monopolies) leads to bureaucratic and professional problems and complications. These problems have created difficulties for owners of food industry businesses who wish to obtain kashrut certification so as to expand their clientele. Consumers of kosher products are also affected by the not-uncommonly sub-par level of local rabbinate supervision of food manufacture, preparation, and presentation.

Ever since the chief rabbinate was given authority over kashrut as part of the Chief Rabbinate legislation many committees have been convened, many recommendations have been written, and many words have been spoken about the kashrut situation in Israel. Discussions focused on the deficiencies of the system and possible ways to fix it. None of the suggestions has led to significant improvements and lately it seems as though the Israeli public — certainly segments of the public — has given up and has reluctantly begun the search for alternatives, some of which are illegal. One example can be seen in the “social kashrut certification” which is gaining traction in Jerusalem and its environs.

This position paper first surveys the kashrut structure as it now is and details the main problems when compared to the American kashrut system. Following this, the position paper surveys the various proposals for reform of the Israeli kashrut structure and analyses the advantages and disadvantages of each. The main goal of this position paper is to present and explain in detail a different, unique solution which would serve as a suitable compromise between the different approaches to questions of state and religion and which might lead to the desired change. This solution, first proposed as a way to deal with problems in the marriage registration system, champions the creation of kashrut regions, thereby breaking the monopoly of the local rabbinates by allowing business owners who seek kashrut supervision and certification to turn to any local rabbi they choose. This could be called “governmental privatization,” despite the oxymoron. Read More

Analysis of the Proposed Conversion Law

By Conversion, Immigration, Religion and State No Comments

By Ariel Finkelstain

Following the proposed law sponsored by MK Elazar Stern regarding conversion by the local Rabbis, there is a deep and alert public discourse about the conversions issue. Throughout the public discussion, many arguments were heard, which were often imprecise and based on a misunderstanding of the proposed law. The goal of this analysis is to fill in this void and briefly explain the proposed law to the public, including the previous forms it took and its goals, and to discuss several of the points made against it.

The analysis focuses on two arguments which were brought up against the proposed law:

The first argument is that the goal of the proposed law is to promote reform and conservative conversions. Analysis of the proposed law shows that this argument has no substance and the proposed law does not at all promote that type of conversion. Read More

Burial of Non-Jewish Soldiers

By Additional Issues, Immigration, Religion and State No Comments

Eliad Avruch and Lilach Ben-Zvi

One of the most obvious manifestations of being Israeli is army service. Another factor positioning a person within Israeli society, is his religious affiliation. This presents a dilemma for the many people currently serving in the armed forces who are categorised as being without religion or questionably Jewish, and this dilemma is particularly poignant during times of bereavement, when the army must decide whether to bury both Jews and non-Jews, side-by-side (considered by most to be against the dictates of Halacha). This situation creates a clash between the values of Israel as a Jewish state and as a state which appreciates and even sanctifies all its fallen.

According to Jewish law it is forbidden to bury a member of another religion in a Jewish cemetery. But since burial of combat soldiers has taken on such symbolic importance, setting aside separate sections for members of other religions or burying the bodies outside the cemetery fence may lead to unwanted personal, familial, and sectorial complications. Insensitive treatment of a soldier who was persecuted in his native country for being a Jew and in Israel is treated, even after his death, as a non-Jew (leaving aside for now any determination of his true religious affiliation) may lead to alienation and isolation on the part of both the soldier’s family and entire groups within Israeli society. At the same time, ignoring Jewish law may have a negative impact on the Jewish character of the state of Israel and on soldiers and their families who wish to be buried according to the dictates of Jewish law.

The purpose of this position paper is to determine the most appropriate approach to the burial of these members of Israeli society in order to maintain a balance among the needs of the different sectors which serve in the armed forces. Read More

Summary of 19th Knesset Activities Concerning State and Religion

By Additional Issues, Religion and State No Comments

Abstract

Though the 19th Knesset served for one of the shortest periods in our history (less than two years), it was very active concerning matters of state and religion. The governing coalition did not include any of the Ultra-Orthodox parties, and, although there were those who criticized this fact, others saw this as a chance to enact reforms on issues of state and religion.

This survey examines the activity of the 19th Knesset in this area, focusing on proposed legislation (both private and governmental) which was actively advanced or which generated significant public discussion. The survey does not discuss other proposed laws which may have been formally filed. The survey also encompasses a number of formal government regulations and certain public initiatives outside the regulatory framework. The survey does not include proposed legislation relating to the state relationship to religious populations such as proposals to draft Ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF or to modify the autonomy of the religious and Ultra-Orthodox educational systems.

The survey shows that 32 proposals and initiatives on the subject of state and religion were actively promoted during the 19th Knesset. Deputy Minister of Religious Services Eli Ben Dahan (HaBayit HaYehudi) and MK Elazar Stern (HaTenuah) are the leading members of Knesset in this area: each promoted eight different initiatives. MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) promoted six initiatives in the field, and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni (HaTenuah) promoted five. (At the end of the survey there is a table summarizing all proposals and their current status.) Read More

Mikvas in Israel Part II

By Mikva, Religion and State No Comments
The Business Licensing Order states that a ritual bath (mikveh) is a business requiring a license, and this, to “insure public health, including appropriate sanitary conditions”. The Business Licensing directives of 1999 (dealing with appropriate sanitary conditions for ritual baths), as set by the Ministry of Health include directives relating to the ritual bath building, it’s facilities, maintenance and operation, and are aimed at preventing safety and sanitary hazards in ritual baths. The Ministry of Health’s website states clearly that “only in licensed ritual baths can the sanitary conditions and other conditions be deemed appropriate.”
In 2004, the State Comptroller carried out an audit with respect to the business licenses of ritual baths in eight different local authorities in Israel, and pointed out numerous flaws and defects, which the authorities promised to rectify as soon as possible. A follow-up check, which we conducted more than a decade later in those very same local authorities, disclosed to the fact that despite the severely negative report submitted by the State Comptroller, with respect to most of the local authorities in question, the business licenses have not been improved, and, indeed, in some places (e.g., Tel Aviv) the situation has even worsened.
In an extensive examination conducted as part of this study, we contacted various local authorities in order to obtain information regarding the business licenses of the ritual baths operated by the different Religious Councils and Departments of Religious Services. Of the 761 ritual baths currently in operation in Israel and operated by these bodies, we received 481 responses (63.2%). Of these, 359 ritual baths (about 75%) currently operate without a license. For the sake of comparison, only 29% of business running regular bathing facilities in the Jewish sector operate without a required license.

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Another Saturday of Football? Suggestion for Regulating Football and Other Sports Games on Saturday

By Religion and State, Shabbath No Comments
A court ruling given by the Labor Court last August raised the issue of holding football games on Saturdays (Shabbat = the Jewish Sabbath], stating that holding league games on Shabbat is a violation of the law, as football teams were never given a permit to hire workers on Shabbat.
This ruling opened a wide public debate on the matter, and touched not only on the legality of employing religious players on this day, but actually holding public games while violating the Sabbath, and the ability of religious players to participate in these games, as players and as spectators.
One must note that football in Israel includes two separate issues: professional football (top leagues) and popular football (lower leagues and leagues for children and youth). Even though the Labor Court referred only to professional football, the public debate currently being held deals also with popular football and, therefore, must also address this issue with utmost seriousness. In fact, the public debate on popular football is relevant to all sports fields in Israel, and even to several fields in professional sports.
When dealing with professional football, the position paper examines top league games in the 2014-2015 season and points out that only 57 games – constituting 23.57% of the games during this season – were held at hours considered by Jewish Law to be Shabbat, while 29 games were held led than one hour after the end of Shabbat. Thus, in many weeks all that is needed is for the games to start a little bit later in order to prevent them being held on Shabbat.

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