Israel: The Challenge of a Democratic and Jewish State

by Asher Arian, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Politics, City University of New York Graduate School; Scientific Director of the Guttman Center of Applied Social Research, Israel Democracy Institute, Jerusalem.

Upon his election as Israel’s president in June 2007, Shimon Peres, twice prime minister of Israel, Nobel laureate for peace, former head of the Socialist International, and former head of Israel’s Labor Party, did two things. First, he went to the Western Wall of the Temple in the Old City of Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest site, and second, he paid a call to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of Shas, one of Israel’s non-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox parties. The contrasts in this story illuminate the anomalies of religion in Israeli public life. Where are the boundaries? What is Jewish? What is religious behavior? Can one survive politically without paying homage to religious leaders and espousing religious sentiments? What could the word secular mean in that type of context: Non-religious? Anti-religious? Impervious to religion? Without religion?

Israel: The Challenge of a Democratic and Jewish State.

Human Rights and the Confrontation between Religious and Constitutional Authority: A Case Study of Israel’s Supreme Court

by Frances Raday, Professor of Law: Elias Lieberman Chair in Labor Law, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Director of the Concord Research Institute for Integration of International Law in Israel, at Colman College of Management and Academic Studies; Chair of the Israeli Association of Feminist and Gender Studies

This chapter focuses on the confrontation between religious and constitutional authority, as it affects the rights to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and gender and ethnic equality. It will analyze the Supreme Court’s reviews of decisions made by religious authorities. As background, I will first discuss the way in which constitutional norms should, as a matter of constitutional principle, deal with clashes between the right to culture or religion, on one hand, and the right to equality and freedom of conscience and religion, on the other. I will then seek to measure the Court’s jurisprudence within this conceptual framework. In order to determine which principles should govern the role of constitutional law in regulating the interaction between religious values and equality, I shall examine the theoretical arguments supporting deference to cultural or religious values over universal values. ose arguments, I shall contend, must not prevail. ere are various situations in which constitutionalism must cope with claims for deference to religious authority. The boundaries of a religious culture will not necessarily be coextensive with the constitutional realm. Within the constitutional realm, there may be a dominant religious culture and minority subcultures, or there may be a mosaic of subcultures. Furthermore, even in a religiously homogeneous society, the imposition of religious norms may vary at the levels of family, workplace and church/mosque/synagogue. There may be a different appreciation of the applicability of the norms in each of these institutional frameworks.

Human Rights and the Confrontation between Religious and Constitutional Authority: A Case Study of Israel’s…

The Secular Israeli (Jewish) Identity: An Impossible Dream?

by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel

Certain similarities can be observed in secularization processes across societies. Secularization is always gradual and relative, moving continually to a pronounced decline in common religious beliefs and behaviors while maintaining many rituals surrounding rites of passage. Life cycle rites, directly tied to individual identity, survive even in highly secularized societies. Individual claims to identity labels (i.e. I am Catholic) often persist in the absence of any beliefs or behaviors. If religiosity is measured as a continuous variable, and an individual can be assigned a score of zero to 100 based on commitment to religious beliefs and rituals, secular individuals are those with scores at or close to zero.

The Secular Israeli (Jewish) Identity: An Impossible Dream?