Border Disputes: Religious Adjudication Along the Private/Public Divide

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The article uses Israel's volatile jurisdictional dynamics of the past two decades concerning access to religious community justice, as a telling case for examining the way legal pluralism is deployed along the public-private divide. The Israeli case exhibits a complex combination of an ostensibly liberal democratic regime, a commitment to a particularistic ethno-national political project, structural entanglements of state and religion against the backdrop of an unsettled constitutional order, and an historically diffuse mode of often-illiberal normative ordering within its diverse religious communities. All this provides a rich backdrop for various strategies by communal and institutional elites seeking to consolidate power, legitimacy, and authenticity in their often mutually-reliant jurisdictional projects. The article explores several salient episodes from Israel's religious jurisdiction dynamics, focusing for purposes of analytical clarity on the case of Jewish orthodox legality. The analysis uncovers the main strategies stakeholders resort to, and shows how agency flows in different ways, with the choices of each player affecting the possibilities of the others. The institution at the arguable top of the system - the Supreme Court - is shown to be often devoid of effective means of elucidating, let along imposing, a coherent vision for a fragmented jurisdictional field. Conceptually, the judicial forum is revealed as the locus of an ongoing, uneasy engagement among normative imaginaries in a sometimes-competitive, sometimes-collaborative negotiation over coherence, tolerance, authority, and legitimacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-312
Number of pages26
JournalLaw and Ethics of Human Rights
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.


  • Israeli law
  • Jurisdiction
  • Legal pluralism
  • Public-private distinction
  • Religious courts


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