Those outside of Israel often do not grasp Israel's religion & state challenges
Landmark Supreme Court cases emblematic of Israel's religion-state divide
This week has been very busy on the legal front of religious freedom & equality in Israel. In many ways, it has been symptomatic of the intensity and diversity of the many issues confronting Israel along the religion-state divide.
Uri Regev 12/01/2017 22:31
Hands in chains, source: publicdomainpictures.net
This week's legal docket before the Israeli Supreme Court included several landmark cases.
The first case relates to an innovative, lenient religious ruling issued in 2014 by the Orthodox Rabbinical Court of Safed in Northern Israel, which granted a traditional, Orthodox Jewish divorce to a woman whose husband had been lying in coma for nine years. The Rabbinical Court of Safed thereby freed the woman from her marriage, but just last month, in an unprecedented step, Israel's Supreme Rabbinical Court declared that it would review this case before a full 11-judge panel, following an appeal by a third party (a private citizen and lawyer) who has no connection to the case whatsoever.
To convene 11 of Israel's 12 Supreme Rabbinic judges is no small matter. Further, the Supreme Rabbinical Court has invited the lower regional rabbinical court judges to this hearing, suggesting the Supreme Rabbinical Court's intent: to pressure the lower court into reversing the Safed Rabbinical Court's lenient religious ruling. For the Supreme Rabbinical Court itself to reverse a municipal rabbinical court's ruling would be completely unprecedented.
This week, Israel's High Court of Justice ruled that it must hold a hearing on the validity of a third-party appeal by an individual with no connection to the divorce case before the Supreme Rabbinical Court can go ahead with its planned hearing. Regardless of what the Court ultimately decides, it is clear that Israel's top rabbinic leadership represents a fundamentalist, anachronistic, rigid interpretation of Jewish religious law, divorced from the will of the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public and blind to the suffering of individuals such as this young divorcée.
High Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein was emphatic in his remarks on the ruling:
"It seems that the appellant inserted himself into a fight that isn't his. What if the woman had remarried in the meantime [her children would have the permanent religious status of "mamzerim" and therefore be ostracized]? The picture doesn't look good on the face of it."
What if the woman had remarried in the meantime [her children would have the permanent religious status of "mamzerim" and therefore be ostracized]? The picture doesn't look good on the face of it.
Another pertinent case before the High Court justices was a petition that seeks to legalize same-sex marriage in Israel. In the hearing before the High Court two things were apparent:
- Some of the Justices expressed empathy for this cause, and acknowledged the fact that the rights of same-sex couples are infringed upon by the current state of Israeli law, which does not allow them to get married in Israel. The law only permits them to register same-sex weddings that are celebrated overseas (and even this was only made possible as a result of litigation before the Supreme Court quite some years ago, in spite of the State's official refusal to allow such registration).
- The Court suggested that it would maintain the consistent approach it has expressed in a number of previous cases over the decades, in which heterosexual couples sought marriage freedom in Israel and challenged Israeli law, which denies some the ability to marry at all, and coerces many more to marry in accordance with Orthodox rituals and customs. In all of these cases, including the ones this week, the Court has made it clear that it does not see itself as the appropriate address for making such far reaching changes in Israel's marriage laws, which have been in existence from the inception of the state. The court made it clear that legislative change (via the Knesset) would be necessary.
Hiddush's repeated polling consistently indicates that some two-thirds of the Israeli Jewish public supports doing away with the Orthodox Jewish monopoly over marriage and allowing for both civil and non-Orthodox alternatives.
It should be emphasized that in terms of public opinion on these questions, Hiddush's repeated polling consistently indicates that some two-thirds of the Israeli Jewish public supports doing away with the Orthodox Jewish monopoly over marriage and allowing for both civil and non-Orthodox alternatives. Moreover, a consistently growing percentage supports the demand that the state recognize same-sex marriages or unions (76% in the last poll). Yet another case came up before the Court this week along the same lines: a demand that equal entitlement for the services of surrogate mothers be accorded to same-sex couples, as it currently is accorded under Israeli law to heterosexual couples. Clearly, this injustice is one that will continue to be challenged over and over again until the laws are finally amended.
Finally, as we've written here, the High Court issued the State a Show Cause Order on Wednesday, as to why a woman may not read aloud from a Torah scroll as part of prayer services at the Western Wall. This is all a part of the fabric of daily life in Israel; the reality faced by Israelis, as all of these cases underscore, is that almost every aspect of Israeli society and state is adversely impacted by Israel's unholy alliance of religion & state.
Often, Jewish communities outside of Israel that exist in open societies, which respect and uphold religious freedom, do not fully grasp the severity of Israel's religion & state challenges, for they are mostly exposed to occasional and often sensationalized scandals and disputes, such as the Western Wall controversy and the "Who is a Jew?" battles. In Israel, on the other hand, such issues occupy the headlines weekly (and sometimes daily) and range from traditional religion-state issues like Shabbat & Kashrut to gender equality & pluralism, and to security & economy.