Resolution on Religious Freedom in Israel

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee under the chairmanship of MK Michael Eitan, has worked for many months to produce a draft constitution for the State of Israel, which is to be reported out of committee in March 2006. Parallel to those efforts, more than one Israeli “think tank” has also issued its own draft proposal. All of these proposals need to tackle the issues of religion and state, which are among the key disagreements that have blocked the adoption of a constitution ever since 1948.

One well-funded institution has produced its own draft of a “constitution by consensus,” which, despite its proclamation of freedom of religious expression and practice, would block all avenues of judicial appeal regarding the existing monopoly of the Orthodox state rabbinate over issues of personal status. That would effectively undermine the draft constitution’s enumeration of citizens’ rights and eliminate its religious freedom plank, thereby entrenching the existing Orthodox monopoly over marriage and divorce in constitutional law. The Rabbinical Assembly Israel Region and the Masorti Movement have expressed their opposition to that proposal and their concern that there be no provision undermining complete religious equality adopted in any document that would become the foundation of the relationship of religion and state in Israel.

Whereas the Rabbinical Assembly has historically over the past 100 years supported the centrality of the State of Israel in the life of the Jewish people;

Whereas the State of Israel has been governed by the principle of Basic Law since its establishment without the benefit of a Constitution establishing the rights and responsibilities of Israel’s citizens and their government;

Whereas the laws governing personal status (e.g., marriage and divorce) in the State of Israel is still regulated by Ottoman law in force before the Mandate period which grants a monopoly over the regulation of the personal status of Israel’s Jewish citizens to the Orthodox state rabbinate; and

Whereas proposals for a Constitution for the State of Israel have been issued by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee and by several private organizations.

Therefore be it resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly call on the Knesset to guarantee in any Constitution equal status for the mainstream expressions of Jewish religious life, without the establishment of any one of them as the sole recognized authority for the Jewish religious community; and

Be it further resolved that the Rabbinical Assembly insist that the Knesset ensure that marriages and divorces entered into in the State of Israel under the auspices of rabbis of any of the established and recognized forms of Jewish religious life, including members of the Rabbinical Assembly, be recognized as valid and binding under Israeli civil law.

Passed by the Rabbinical Assembly Plenum, March, 2006