Prof. Yedidia Stern, Prof. Hanoch Dagan, Prof. Shahar Lifshitz
The State of Israel is defined as a "Jewish and democratic" state. What is the significance of this dual definition? Is there a conflict between these two components of Israeli identity? If so, can it be resolved? These questions underlie Israel's social, cultural, religious, and political agenda, and touch upon the individual existence of the Jewish people and the national existence of the State of Israel, in this generation and in the future.
IDI's Human Rights and Judaism project is a new research project designed to probe these questions. This program explores the existing and potential relationships between the Jewish tradition, in all of its forms (national, religious, and cultural) in the past and present, and the doctrine of human-rights, in its broadest sense. It aims to expose the points of conflict and potential points of agreement between these two approaches and explores the possibility of enriching the dialogue between the intellectual, experiential, and practical worlds that they represent. To this end, the project has two areas of focus: developing a body of research with the help of leading intellectuals in the humanities, social sciences, Judaism, and law, and training an elite cadre of scholars who will devote their energies to this topic in the future.
The Jewish and democratic State of Israel is characterized by tension between the universalistic principles underlying its democratic character and the particularistic concerns inherent in its definition as a Jewish State. Many critics see an irresolvable contradiction between Israel's twin identities, and increasingly call for the adoption of one definition or the other. These critics believe that Israel must either abandon its pretense of democracy and erect an authoritarian state of the Jews, or abolish the Jewish character of the state and reinvent itself as a multi-ethnic, supra-national democracy – a post-modern "state of its citizens." Either alternative would carry serious consequences for the future of Israel and of the Jewish people.
IDI's Human Rights and Judaism Project is designed to produce the ideological mortar that will enable the intellectual leadership of this generation to foster a strong sense of solidarity with Israel as both a vibrant democracy and the national homeland of the Jewish people, before Israel loses either its Jewish or its democratic character.
The project will achieve this goal by pioneering the development of a new field of intellectual inquiry, which will focus on "Human Rights in the Jewish Tradition." The doctrine of human rights is commonly seen as standing in opposition to religious thought in general and to Jewish tradition in particular. Secular liberals often see Jewish tradition as a threat to democratic values and to the doctrine of human rights, while religious Jews often view discourse of human rights as an alien import that threatens Jewish values.
IDI's Human Rights in Judaism Project will bridge this gap by engaging in a rigorous re-reading of the Jewish tradition. The project will uncover the Jewish roots of the modern doctrine of the universal rights of man, and will reveal the common ground between the Jewish tradition and liberal thought. This will pave the way for reconciling the "Jewish" and "democratic" building blocks of the Israeli polity.
Under the guidance of Prof. Yedidia Stern, Prof. Shahar Lifshitz, and Prof. Hanoch Dagan, the project will assess what Judaism, in its broadest sense, has to say about fundamental liberal rights such as liberty, dignity, welfare, equality, and freedom of expression. At the same time, it will examine the unique set of rights and obligations offered by the Jewish worldview, and will explore their relevance to sovereign life in the Jewish nation-state. This two-way approach will expose areas of overlap and consensus between important parts of the liberal and Jewish lexicons, and will highlight areas of divergence between the two traditions in a way that will enable each to be informed and enriched by the other.
Young Scholars Training Program
In order to meet the project's goals, IDI has assembled a team of dedicated instructors and has established a fellowship program for outstanding researchers at the early stages of their academic careers who are interested in exploring matters pertinent to Human Rights and Judaism. Participants in the three-year program, who receive a generous annual stipend, devote themselves fulltime to their doctoral studies and spend one day a week at IDI, participate in an innovative research program on Human Rights and Judaism that is comprised of professional training, seminars, national and international conferences, and publication of research.
To date, the Human Rights and Judaism has recruited three groups of six young scholars each who began their three-year training programs in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and is currently seeking applicants for the program that will begin in October 2014. For details about the terms of the program, click here.
Focus on: Human Rights of People with Disabilities
Publication: Religion in Human Rights Discourse
Religion plays an evasive role in human rights discourse. On the one hand, historically, human rights discourse often developed on a religious platform, in many cases employing language, concepts, and claims that were essentially religious. As a result, religious values, such as the concept of creation in the image of God, play an important role in liberal, secular thinking and in human rights discourse, and different religions include a wide range of human rights values as well. On the other hand, in many religions, both the content of the belief system (i.e., its unique values and the norms that it chose to adopt) and the way in which religion is organized (i.e., the political and social institutions that transmit beliefs and rituals) are perceived as a significant threat to the liberal identity of countries and the human rights of individuals who live in them.
A product of the first international conference of IDI's Human Rights and Judaism project, Religion in Human Rights Discourse, which will be published in 2014, grapples with some of the universal challenges that emerge from this complex relationship, utilizing the Israeli reality (in some of the chapters) as a particularly fascinating test case. The book proposes a comprehensive, pluralistic perspective on the reciprocal relationship between human rights and Judaism in particular, and religion in general, and serves as a platform for spirited dialogue between these two worlds.
Publication: Judaism and Human Rights
This two-volume set by Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes deals with basic issues of human dignity and human rights as they appear in classical Jewish sources, from the Bible and its commentaries through the Talmud and the philosophical and halakhic literature, and up to contemporary halakhic and public issues. This study probes the tensions found in the tradition between clashing rights and obligations, including the tension between the rights of individuals and the needs of the public. The overall picture that emerges from it is that the fundamental principles of human dignity, equality, and freedom are deeply rooted in Jewish tradition.
The first volume of this publishing project, which focuses on the dialectic between the "image of God" and the concept of "a holy nation," was published in 2013. Find out more about it here.
Publication: Universalism vs. Particularism
The discourse on the conflict between human rights and Judaism is one aspect of the broader tension between universal values and particular values and culture (in this case, Jewish values and culture). As part of the Human Rights and Judaism project, a group of experts is putting together a reader of fundamental texts on various aspects of the tension between the universal and the particular. This volume will reflect multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, intergenerational, and pluralistic thinking and will serve as a point of departure for future discussions about various facets of this tension. Prof. Avi Sagi of Bar-Ilan University and the Hartman Institute is leading this project.
Publication: The Right to Divorce
The right to divorce is an expression of every man and woman’s right to be free and of the autonomy of the individual to choose to terminate a relationship that he or she is no longer interested in. Jewish law, in contrast, sets limits on the right to divorce. At first glance, these limitations severely infringe the freedom of individuals—especially women—who wish to divorce their partner.
This study by Prof. Avishalom Westreich explores whether there is an irreconcilable conflict between the human right to divorce and the halakhic concept of divorce. It demonstrates that some currents within the halakhic concept of divorce—which is not monolithic—can coexist with moderate and liberal approaches. Accordingly, the study asserts that there is not necessarily a clash between Judaism and human-rights discourse regarding the right to divorce; rather, it is possible to strike a certain balance between the two.
Call for Candidates: The Human Rights and Judaism is seeking outstanding doctoral students for its fourth intake of scholars for a three-year program beginning in 2014–2015. Click here for further details.
Rabbi Yitzhak Ben David shares thoughts on the alignment of the Memorial Day for Yitzhak Rabin on the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars, which challenges us to find a renewed reconciliation between Israeli democracy and Jewish civilization.Read More
IDI Vice President Prof. Yedidia Stern reflects on the privilege of sacrifice and the necessity to maintain a Jewish Israel in order to justify that sacrifice, in an article written for Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars and Victims of Terrorism.Read More
As Israel prepares to celebrate its independence, Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Lau and Ms. Shira Ruderman remind us of the need to bring people with disabilities into the circle of those who celebrate independence, drawing on the legacy of the late Prof. Reuven Feuerstein in this call for integration.Read More
In an article in The Jewish Week, Ms. Ayelet Libson of IDI's Human Rights and Judaism project questions the role of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and offers her view of what it could be.Read More
Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern asserts that if we see ourselves as "other" and identify with the stranger, the poor, and people with disabilities, historic redemption of our ancestors from Egypt will be an ongoing redemption for our generation.Read More
Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau and Shira Ruderman, Israel Director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, share thoughts on the Purim story, leadership, responsibility, and repair of the world.Read More
An op-ed by IDI Senior Fellow Admiral Ami Ayalon, Project Head Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau, and Shira Ruderman of the Ruderman Foundation, stressing the need to dispel the fear of the Other and the Different.Read More
Prof. Shahar Lifshitz explains why IDI's proposal for civil unions, which was first presented in his IDI policy paper The Spousal Registry, is the best solution possible today for alleviating the distress of couples who cannot or do not want to marry in a religious ceremony in Israel.Read More
In honor of International Day for Persons with Disabilities, Rabbi Dr. Benjamin (Benny) Lau updates us on IDI's efforts on behalf of people with disabilities and reveals that people with guide dogs are now allowed to access the Western Wall.Read More
In an article in The Jewish Week, Gitit Paz, a young scholar in IDI's Human Rights and Judaism project, discusses the status of mamzer in Jewish law and in contemporary Israel.Read More
Prof. Shahar Lifshitz, author of an IDI policy paper proposing a spousal registry as a framework for civil unions in Israel, welcomes the reintroduction of this issue to the public agenda but expresses some concern about the formulation of the current bill.Read More
Rabbi Dr. Benjamin (Benny) Lau expresses support for the proposed civil union bill, which would allow couples who do not want to marry in a religious service to form a legally recognized union and be eligible for the benefits and responsibilities associated with marriage.Read More
In an article in The Jewish Week, Rabbi Dr. Benjamin (Benny) Lau calls on religious authorities who hold human rights dear to find a way to allow people with disabilities to have access to the Western Wall plaza.Read More
Rabbi Dr. Benjamin (Benny) Lau, head of IDI's Human Rights and Judaism in Action project, remembers Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as a courageous halakhic decisor who championed the needs of the oppressed.Read More
Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Lau, head of IDI's Human Rights and Judaism in Action project, presents the transition from institutions to homes in the community for people with disabilities as a Jewish imperative.Read More
The first in a series of articles by researchers from IDI's Judaism and democracy projects and Human Rights and Judaism project on the complementary but tense relations between Judaism and democratic values.Read More
In response to the preliminary passage of an amendment that would exempt religious educational institutions from complying with accessibility requirement, a group of leading Israeli rabbis appealed to Israel's elected officials and requested their intervention to prevent the exemption from applying to religious schools. Rabbi Shay Piron, who directs IDI's work in this field under the auspices of IDI's Human Rights and Judaism project, coordinated this important effort.Read More
Why didn't the religious community in Israel participate in the socio-economic protest of the summer of 2011? IDI Senior Fellow Prof. Shahar Lifshitz reflects on this question and discusses the need to develop a pluralistic language that includes both particularistic Jewish values and universal democratic values.Read More
On January 5-6, 2011, IDI convened a Conference on People with Disabilities in the Jewish and Democratic State, as part of the activities of IDI's Judaism and Human Rights project. IDI Senior Fellow Prof. Shahar Lifshitz, the project's co-director, shares his thoughts on social justice and the just distribution of resources.Read More
A groundbreaking anthology that explores the complex relationship between religious traditions and the liberal doctrine of human rights that uses Israel as a test case and examines the interaction between religion and human rights from various angles.Find out More
The Dialectic between “Image of God” and “Holy Nation”
Author: Yehuda Brandes,
A book by Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes that explores the dialectical tension between the universal value of creation in the divine image and the particularistic value of the Jewish people as a holy nation—a tension within Judaism that is at heart of the apparent clash between Jewish and liberal values and at the core of contemporary discourse on Jewish and Israeli identity.Find out More
Human Rights Responsa, March 2013
Author: Benjamin (Benny) Lau,
A contemporary rabbinic responsum by Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau, head of IDI's Human Rights and Judaism in Action project.Find out More
This book deals with the interactions between Judaism— specifically, Jewish Law—and human rights, and explores the values common to both of them. It proposes a theoretical model for analyzing the relations between human rights discourse and Judaism. The extent of the implementation of this model and the weight of the values within it varies from time to time, place to place, and thinker to thinker. The common denominator, however, is quite broad and valuable, and opens a window onto a topic in need of exposure and to the firm establishment of dialogue between these two systems.Find out More
Author: Eliezer Hadad,
This study identifies two approaches to the status of the ger toshav – the non-Jew living among Israel – found in classical halakhic literature. According to one view, the granting of rights to non-Jewish minorities is conditional, and depends on their partial assimilation into the Jewish people and forfeiting of their unique national identities. According to the other view, the ger toshav may keep his national identity, but his status is not given a formal basis in law.Find out More
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