Religion and State

The question of the proper role of religion in the state and the parallel role of the state in religion creates political parties, topples governments and dominates the public agenda in Israel. It is also at the core of the debate on Israel's national identity and puts a decisive stamp on Israel's relations with the Diaspora. 

The Program works to ease the tensions between religion and state in Israeli society by proposing research-based policy proposals for reform in areas such as personal status, Shabbat, kashrut and conversion, advocating for Jewish pluralism, combating religious extremism and promoting an interpretation of the Jewish tradition that is compatible with life in a Jewish democracy.

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    Mr. Yair Sheleg

    Researcher, Center for Religion, Nation and State

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    A researcher, journalist, author, and publicist, Yair Sheleg has been an astute observer of the religious-Zionist world for many years.

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    Dr. Eliezer Hadad

    Researcher

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    Researcher, Human Rights and Judaism Program

    Dr. Eliezer Hadad is the coordinator of the MA program in Biblical Studies at Herzog College and a lecturer in Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of The Relationship between Nature and the Torah in Maimonides’ Writings, as well as the policy papers Minorities in the Jewish State and The Status of Women in the Rabbinical Courts.

    Areas of expertise

    The principle of equality in the Jewish sources; Maimonidean philosophy; Jewish philosophy.

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    Dr. Isaac Hershkowitz

    Researcher

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    Dr. Isaac Hershkowitz, who engages in thorough analyses of rabbinic literature in general and halakhic literature in particular, integrates advanced methods of Jewish studies and sociology in his work.

How despicable is a mob that calls for non-partisanship but is unwilling to listen to a voice that speaks for a majority of Israelis today?

In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Dr. Shuki Friedman, Head of IDI's Center for Religion, Nation and State, explains how local government plays a critical role in balancing religion and state in day-to-day life in Israel.

A recent law stripped local authorities of the power to decide on allowing commercial activity on Shabbat and handed it over to the Minister of the Interior, a development which was met with public uproar. Would it not be better to leave these powers in the hands of the municipalities, which act according to the profile of their resident population? Dr. Shuki Friedman makes the case for leaving these decisions in the hands of the local authority.

 

Shared responsibility, engraved in Jewish tradition, is one of the secrets of the State of Israel's success and the use of the plural form in confession reflects this perception.

We should simultaneously define Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and at the same time---the state and home of all its citizens.

The Jewish calendar should guide our lives not only as individuals and a community, but also as a society and a state. If we want to preserve our identity as a distinct cultural and national group, we must make the effort to shape the cycle of time in our own way. 

Israel's secular elite has lost its enthusiasm for combat service and now targets intelligence units, such as Unit 8200.

What message of Tisha B’Av is relevant for life in a sovereign state like Israel? Does the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel make the day of mourning for “the city that is in mourning, laid waste, despised and desolate” an anachronism?

Israel has evolved into an economic and military superpower; what must we mourn?

Leading public figures avoid dealing with issues that are of national importance when it entails confronting the ultra-Orthodox community.

Yohanan Plesner discusses with Tipping Point the "People's Army". Can a compromise be reached and is "sharing the burden" of military service a realistic goal? 

Step by step, the Chief Rabbinate is turning itself into the central source of halakhic legitimacy not just within Israel’s borders but beyond them, and becoming a global force through securing its power all over the Jewish world.

More than 25 years ago, the “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” affirmed that Israel is a “Jewish” and “democratic” state but did not define either of these terms in the Israeli context. Now is the time for us to turn to the Jewish identity that has been adopted by a large portion of Israel’s Jews and allow it to shape the country’s Jewish character.

On the practical side, religious conversion hasn’t ‘delivered the goods’ so far. Although it has been officially declared a national mission, less than 10 percent of non-Jewish immigrants and their offspring have completed the process. As a result, one in 20 non-Arab Israelis isn’t recognized as a Jew, despite having made aliyah under the Law of Return.

Prof. Yedidia Stern, Vice President of the Israel Democracy Institution said that the proposed conversion law is an important step. The state must take responsibility and resolve the issues that affect so many lives

The government’s conduct and the public’s indifference have far-reaching implications – and not only from a utilitarian perspective. Diaspora Jewry’s economic, political and cultural contributions to the State of Israel are no longer guaranteed, but above all, the unity of the Jewish people around the globe as one nation is under threat

A new book from the Israel Democracy Institute
exposes the failures of the State conversion system over three decades

Rabbis outside the Reform and Conservative movements rarely deal with Jewish-values issues such as the asylum seekers and treatment of the Palestinians

Thought leaders recommend an ‘all in the family’ perspective when it comes to challenges between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.

For decades, religious and ultra-Orthodox members of Knesset, backed and encouraged by their rabbis, have worked to inject the secular state with as much Judaism as possible. Over the course of 70 years, the results of this ongoing effort have been minimal, but the price paid by Judaism has been great.

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Dickens’s words seem a highly apt way of describing the current state of the Jewish people, and the relationship between the two largest Jewish communities in the world – those in Israel and the United States.

Prof. Yedidia Stern: "These rabbis, who loudly extol the virtues of Jewish statehood, do not hesitate to drag the people’s army into the arena of conflict with their irresponsible statements."

Are women leading the change in ultra-Orthodox society or are they preserving their unique way of life? Learn more about the tension between the possibilities that the modern world offers ultra-Orthodox women and the many complex challenges facing them. 

In an op-ed first published by The Forward, IDI's president calls on Israeli leaders to empower Diaspora Jews in the crucial debate on identity and faith.

The recent challenges at the Kotel are but a symptom of an ever-increasing problem.

Prof. Yedidia Stern argues that our Jewish identity and culture depend on how we understand and internalize the past.

The truly great task is to push ourselves to be accountable, personally and nationally, to the question of purpose.

The Exodus from Egypt is what brought Israelites their freedom and made them into a nation.

Leaving issues of religion and state to an ultra-Orthodox monopoly is leading to estrangement between Israel and the Diaspora. New arrangements must be reached.

The ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that a company is permitted to terminate its worker for wearing religious dress is a sad demonstration of the words of Ecclesiastes: “And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there.”

The four new Judicial Appointments Committee selections to the Supreme Court last month have led to the usual partisan responses, breaking down along the lines of “winners” and “losers.” Despondent claims of an “anti-constitutional revolution” are being made simultaneously with celebratory assertions of “making history.” The facts, however, are quite different.

Yedidia Stern examines the tension between religion and state in Israel by exploring several key areas of dispute in Jewish Israeli society and politics. This paper was first published by Brookings.

Yair Ettinger discerns between different streams of Religious-Zionist Jews in Israeli society, and analyzes how these schisms play out in the socio-political arena. This piece was originally published by Brookings.

 

Religious Zionism is based on a nationalistic, even hawkish, position on foreign affairs. Such an ethos, especially in the Middle East, thus demands a great willingness to sacrifice. However, this desire to serve the greater good can only be maintained over time if a sense of solidarity and mutual responsibility unites the members of Israeli society.

Judaism is no longer intimately and inexorably linked to religious observance. 

The upcoming High Holidays are an opportunity to expand our perception beyond our selves and communities. This article was first published by the New York Jewish Week.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is an opportunity to stop and ponder how much we love to forget or forget to love. This article was originally published by the Jewish Journal

It is time for all of us to rethink the desired character of the Israeli Shabbat. This article was originally published by Times of Israel.

IDI's Shuki Friedman laments the existence of separate education systems for each sector of Israel's population, which reinforce, rather than bridge societal divides. This op-ed first appeared on Times of Israel.

The inflammatory statements made about Reform Judaism at the recent First Zion and Jerusalem Conference are not merely old rhetoric, but rather a national ultra-Orthodox (Hardal) declaration of a holy war against the spread of pluralistic Judaism in Israel.

The relationship between religion and state in Israel is stormy. Lately, it seems the ultra-Orthodox have launched a new offensive on several fronts. This op-ed was originally published by JNS.org.

No aspect of the current Western Wall plaza arrangement, in which the Orthodox maintain a monopoly, will change if other denominations are allowed to pray at the foot of the Temple Mount in a new plaza. This article was first published by The Jerusalem Post.

Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. These two characteristics are critical to the country’s existence. This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

What does Shabbat and its observance look like in the State of Israel? Can every individual enjoy this day of rest in the way he/she chooses? Are there actually individuals who are forced to give up Shabbat as a result of a lack of choice or economic coercion? IDI scholar Dr. Shuki Friedman explains in this article which originally appeared on eJewish Philanthropy.

What do the two candidates for the American presidency — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — have in common? Almost nothing at all — except that their children are married to Jews. This op-ed by Yedidia Stern originally appeared in the Jewish Journal. 

The Jewish people have been debating questions of Jewish identity and the definition of "who is a Jew" for thousands of years. While this debate has worn different faces and taken on different shapes at different times, it is a debate that has weighed on all sects and sectors of Jewish society. However, with the formation of the State of Israel, and especially over recent years, there is a palpable feeling that there are two nations caring out separate and different discussions. One lives and operates out of Israel; the other is overseas. This op-ed originally appeared in the Jewish Week.

The transition between Passover and Israel’s Independence Day is a symbolic transition from a holiday that centers on Godly miracles to a holiday that centers on human actions. 

The Supreme Court’s decision to recognize conversions performed by private Orthodox rabbinical courts in Israel is nothing less than a historic drama. The immediate significance is the loss of the Chief Rabbinate’s Orthodox monopoly over conversions, but it’s also a milestone in the privatization of religious services on the road to the Chief Rabbinate’s loss of relevance. Originally published by Haaretz.

There is a necessary condition that must be fulfilled for the existence of our nation-state to be justified: there must be an unconditional guarantee of civic equality for our national minorities. In this area, there is still much to be done.

In an op-ed first published by The Jerusalem Report, Prof. Yedidia Stern says this intifada of knives has left Israel in a twilight zone. It is not a time of war, in which the army is permitted to use arms more freely. But nor is it a time of peace in which any use of arms is seen as most irregular. Sharp differences of opinion between the public and the army could lead to a crisis in public confidence in the military high command. There is a crying need for responsible leadership.

Yair Sheleg, head of IDI's Religion and State program, argues that there are multiple forms of Jewish identity and that religious coercion should not be used to oppose a reality that history created.

Dr. Shuki Friedman reminds us that the values that are so deeply rooted in our Jewish worldview, are part and parcel with the democratic values of our state and its outlook on the obligation to preserve life and human dignity using the rule of law.

IDI Vice President Prof. Yedidia Stern discusses why the memorial day for the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was a religious act. Today's religious Zionist leadership must respond courageously.

In a poetic piece written for Yom Kippur, IDI Vice President Prof. Yedidia Stern asserts that prayer should echo the existential human experience, reflect the ongoing dialogue with alternative cultures, and allow the individuals praying to bring their whole selves into their prayer.

The High Holy Days are a time of reflection and personal growth. But since the founding of the State of Israel, personal repentance is no longer enough. IDI Vice President Yedidia Stern stresses the need to transform Jewish traditions from the personal sphere to the public sphere and calls for collective, national repentance, Israeli style.

To what extent should the Rabbinate interfere in a citizen's plate? Dr. Shuki Friedman, argues that kosher supervision should be based on trust not coercion, and warns that the attempt to preserve the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly on the kosher laws is a symptom of a larger problem.

As the new government begins its work, Dr. Shuki Friedman, Director of IDI's Center for Religion, Nation and State offers recommendations to MK David Azoulay, Minister of Religious Services, on how to keep the rabbinate relevant and improve its standing in Israeli society.

Prof. Yedidia Stern analyzes the problems with past proposals to integrate the ultra-Orthodox sector into the IDF, and proposes a new solution.

Prof. Yedidia Stern urges Israel's leaders to stop tiptoeing around the core issues of religion and state in the Knesset election campaign, and to take a clear position on the matter.

Dr. Benny Porat discusses the precept of debt cancellation during the sabbatical year (Shemita) and proposes ways in which to update this practice to suit the economics of contemporary Israel and create a model society. 

In an article in the <em>Jewish Week</em>, IDI Vice President Yedidia Stern discusses the question of whether it is appropriate for commanders to use religious rhetoric in motivating their soldiers, and stresses the need for the Israeli army to represent all.

On the 19th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Prof. Yedidia Stern asserts that if the annual memorial day for the late prime minister were to be observed as Israeli Democracy Day, Rabin's legacy for the future would be even greater.

In an op-ed in Ynet News, IDI researcher Dr. Haim Zicherman discusses the steps that Israeli society must take in order to enable ultra-Orthodox men to integrate into the Israeli army and workforce.

As the Knesset prepares to vote on the "Draft Law" designed to regulate the service of ultra-Orthodox men in the Israel Defense Forces, Dr. Haim Zicherman surveys the current situation within Israel's Haredi community.

As the Shaked Committee begins to vote on its proposal for the Haredi draft, Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern warns that the proposal's recommendation to exempt Haredi men of draft age during a three-year "adjustment period" is both inequitable and ineffective. 

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.

On November 21 2013, Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern appeared before the Shaked Committee and argued that criminal sanctions are not recommended for reaching conscription goals. In an op-ed in Makor Rishon, he explains why.

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.

Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern shares thoughts on the Hebrew calendar, which contributes to Jewish unity and preserves the Jewish people as a single national and cultural unit.  

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.

Is it possible to draft the ultra-Orthodox and integrate them into Israel's society and economy in a mutually-agreeable manner that encourages solidarity between the different sectors of the Jewish people? Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern shares thoughts on wars between brothers and brothers-in-arms.

Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern and Attorney Haim Zicherman stress the need to break down barriers that are preventing Haredi service in the army and integration in the labor force, and warn against passing a popular but ill-advised reform. 

In an op-ed in<em> The Jewish Week</em>, IDI Vice President of Research Yedidia Z. Stern asserts that the election of two Haredi Chief Rabbis was a failure on three levels: political, religious, and cultural.

IDI researcher Attorney Haim Zicherman warns against attempts to integrate ultra-Orthodox Jews into the army by encouraging them to abandon their lifestyle, and calls for developing mechanisms that will accept and respect their values. 

IDI Vice President of Research Prof. Yedidia Stern warns that the hasty passage of the proposed government bill on the Haredi draft would be "old politics," and stresses the importance of a Knesset debate to arrive at balanced legislation that is in line with the national interest. 

IDI Vice President Prof. Yedidia Stern responds to the State Comptroller's findings on conversion in Israel and calls for a solution that will enable Israelis from the former Soviet Union to join the ranks of the Jewish people.

Prof. Yedidia Stern calls for a historic alliance between religious and secular moderates that will yield a solution that will  that will yield a solution that addresses the need for ultra-Orthodox army service while taking into account the most important values of the Haredi community.

The need for the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel to share the burden of military service and participate equally in the Israeli economy was a central issue in the 2013 elections. IDI researcher Dr. Benny Porat shares his thoughts on how to bring about this change in the Haredi community.

IDI researcher Dr. Benjamin Brown discusses the sense of attack experienced by the Haredi community in the 2013 election campaign and calls for a process of gradual change in integrating the ultra-Orthodox in the Israeli army and workforce.

Following the elections of 2013, IDI Vice President Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern hails the incoming Knesset as a unique opportunity to change the nature of the State of Israel so that it is both more Jewish and more democratic at the same time. 

Naftali Bennett's statement that he would refuse orders if commanded to evacuate settlements raises questions about the type of insubordination that he and his party condone. In an op-ed in Yedioth Ahronoth, Prof. Yedidia Stern calls on Habayit Hayehudi to clarify its position on the matter.

In an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post, IDI's Prof. Yedidia Stern, who served on the Plesner Committee for Equality in National Service, and Mr. Jay Ruderman analyze the Haredi community's reluctance to serve in the Israeli army and present an approach that will facilitate Haredi integration into Israel's army and society.

Following the dissolution of the Committee to Advance Equality in Sharing the Burden, committee head MK Yohanan Plesner submitted proposals for alternatives to the Tal Law. In this article, IDI Researcher Attorney Haim Zicherman, who served as the content coordinator of the Plesner Committee, warns that some of those measures were personal recommendations rather than recommendations of the Committee, and may reverse trends of increasing army service by ultra-Orthodox Jews.

IDI Vice President of Research Prof. Yedidia Stern sets the  controversy over mass transportation on Shabbat and holidays in Israel in a broader context, and distinguished between the need for an Israeli-Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath) rather than a religious Shabbat.

In this response to the Supreme Court ruling on the Tal Law, IDI Senior Researcher Yair Sheleg asserts that the exemption of ultra-Orthodox men from military service is an unparalleled <em>Hillul Hashem</em>—a desecration of the Name of God, and shares his views of a possible solution.

The Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Tal Law, after 30 years of avoiding the issue of the exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service, is an expression of judicial activism that illustrates the transformation that the Israeli Supreme Court has undergone in the last generation. In this op-ed, originally published in Hebrew in <em>Makor Rishon</em>, IDI Vice President Prof. Yedidia Stern asserts that the Court went too far in this ruling and that its activism is hard to justify.

IDI Vice President of Research Prof. Yedidia Stern sets the  controversy over mass transportation on Shabbat and holidays in Israel in a broader context, and distinguished between the need for an Israeli-Jewish Shabbat (Sabbath) rather than a religious Shabbat.

Will the Israeli Supreme Court's ruling that the Tal Law is unconstitutional really guarantee that the burden of Israel's defense will be shared equally by the country's citizens? IDI's Prof. Yedidia Stern warns that this ruling may actually hinder the integration of the Haredi community into Israeli society rather than promoting it.

In an op-ed in Israel Hayom, IDI researcher Adv. Haim Zicherman argues that a temporary extension of the Tal Law would help the growing trend of ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the IDF and would enable volunteering for civilian service to continue.

Recently, the findings of the third Guttman-AVI CHAI report—A Portrait of Israeli Jews: Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews—were presented to the public. The findings have drawn much media coverage because they revealed that an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews believe in God. In an op-ed from <em>Haaretz</em>, IDI Senior researcher Yair Sheleg responds to columnists who were alarmed by the findings regarding belief in God, and argues that what is really of concern is the inverse relationship between this belief and belief in democratic values.

Israeli society has seen a recent push to exclude women from the public sphere. In this blog entry, translated from the Hebrew, IDI Senior Researcher Yair Sheleg, argues against the recent turn toward extremism, calling on Israelis from all camps to respond to these developments responsibly.

In an op-ed from Haaretz, IDI research fellow Yair Sheleg responds to settler leader Benny Katzover’s positions on the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel, and argues that Israel should not prefer either of these two identities and should view its Jewish and democratic nature as two manifestations of human dignity.

In an op-ed from <em>Haaretz</em>, IDI Research Fellow Yair Sheleg responds to the law allowing admissions committees in small community settlements to bar new residents who do not suit the “lifestyle and social fabric” of the community.

In this op-ed from Haaretz, IDI Research Fellow Yair Sheleg decries the ultra-Orthodox refusal to alter standards for conversion to Judaism in recognition of the fact that for many Israelis, Jewish identity is not only an expression of religious observance but also of identification with Zionism and Jewish culture. He warns that the ultra-Orthodox approach is causing serious injustice to thousands of people who wish to live as Jews and raise Jewish children in Israel.

Are the ostensibly anti-Arab bills under consideration by the Knesset, the “Rabbis’ Letter” that forbids the sale of real estate to non-Jews, and the findings of the 2010 Israeli Democracy Index clear-cut indicators that racism is on the rise in Israel today? Or are more complex factors at play? IDI Research Fellow Yair Sheleg shares his views on this matter.

The "Rabbis' Letter" signed by dozens of community rabbis in Israel in December 2010 asserts that Jewish law forbids the rental and sale of homes in Israel to non-Jews. Is renting property to non-Jews indeed forbidden by Jewish law? IDI Researcher Dr. Eliezer Hadad surveys opinions by contemporary rabbis who adopted a universalistic approach and found a halakhic basis for the equal rights mandated by both international norms and the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

Is Israel in a similar situation as the Weimar Republic after World War I—on the road to a fascist, racist regime? In this article, IDI Research Fellow Yair Sheleg asserts that alongside the dangerous statements of the Israeli right, the extreme left's attempts to delegitimize Israel and its army, as well as its sweeping characterization of any initiative that seeks to strengthen Israel's security or Jewish identity as racist, are dangerous as well. He concludes that it's not enough to combat anti-democratic terrorism; the exploitation of democracy that feeds it must be combated as well.

On July 12, 2010, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee approved a controversial draft bill on conversion reform. Presented as an effort to make conversion more accessible to hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish according to state and religious law, the proposed legislation sparked an outcry both in Israel and the Diaspora. In this article, IDI Researcher Netanel Fisher exposes the dangerous linkage between conversion and the status of Judaism's non-Orthodox movements and assesses the likelihood of the bill achieving its goals.

In an op-ed in Yedioth Ahronoth, Prof. Yedidia Stern points to segments of Israel's population that denounce the national values of the State: supporters of “normalization,” ultra-Orthodox Jews, Arab Israelis, and a new group that has joined them: ultra-nationalists.

IDI Research Fellow Yair Sheleg argues that it is time to modify the requirements for those who wish to join the Jewish People, with the State overriding the religious establishment through legislation in order to resolve this issue, if necessary.

Yair Sheleg investigates whether the separation of religion and state manifests itself differently in Israel than it does in other countries.

 

Book launch: Conversion in Israel: Vision | Edited by: Yedidia Stern and Netanel Fisher

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This seminar will feature local and international experts, who will discuss various issues related to Jewish identity, such as: how one becomes a member of the Jewish people, attitudes towards mixed marriages, the proliferation of ways to be Jewish today and more.

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A conference organized by Dr. Lee Cahaner and Mrs. Racheli Ibenboim

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After 20 years, the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is still seen as a pivotal event in the relationship between religious Zionism and Israeli society. This seminar will examine how religious Zionism has changed over the past two decades and what (if any) impact Rabin's murder had on those changes.

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An evening dedicated to the findings of a study of the National Religious Sector conducted by IDI's Guttman Center for Surveys

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A joint initiative of IDI, the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Law, the Tikvah Center for Law & Jewish Civilization, and JOFA

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How is the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community dealing with the split within its community? How is religious Zionism dealing with the tension between its liberal and more ultra-Orthodox streams? What will happen to the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox community in the post-Ovadia Yosef period? Are we indeed at the end of an era?

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A two-day conference on the role of Religious Zionism in Israeli society

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A full day conference convened by IDI's Nation State project and Religion and State project.

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