Israeli law and jewish law in Israel: A zero sum game?

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The most significant event in the life of the Jewish people in the past century, and perhaps in the last few thousand years, was the establishment of the State of Israel. Its Declaration of Independence describes it as “a Jewish state,” a phrase that would become part of Israel’s constitutional definition as “a Jewish democratic state.” But what is a Jewish state, and how does it differ from an ordinary democratic state? There is no ready-made answer to the riddle of Israel’s Jewish identity. The literature dealing with nation-states is not sensitive to the uniqueness of Judaism, which weaves together religion, nationality, and culture. Nor does the Jewish literary canon offer answers. The long years of exile, during which most works on Jewish law were written, silenced Jewish thought on the subject. Given the lack of historical experience in the management of a Jewish state, tracing our contemporaries’ inquiries into the meaning of Israel's Jewishness in various contexts is a fascinating quest. The legal system is a central stage for this drama. Jewish religion is a legal religion. A believing Jew is asked to accept a normative religious code – known as halakha – that aspires to regulate all aspects of human existence: the individual’s relations with other individuals, with the society at large, with her God, and even with himself. The halakhic way of life preserved Jews, who were spread throughout the globe for 2,000 years without a territorial or political center, as one people. Halakha has now become less important for most Jews, but still serves as the central criterion for determining a Jew’s measure of religiosity. With the establishment of the State of Israel, halakha was pushed to the margins of national life. A religious person can observe halakhic commands individually or in a communal framework, but Israel, despite its definition as a Jewish state, has not adopted halakha as the law of the state. With the establishment of Israel in 1948, Israeli statutes absorbed the laws of the British Mandate that were in force in Palestine at the time and has replaced them with original Israeli laws over the years.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInstitutionalizing Rights and Religion
Subtitle of host publicationCompeting Supremacies
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781316599969
ISBN (Print)9781107153714
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2017.


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