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Part 4: Judaism, Culture and State



The State of Israel and its Institutions

Israel Defense Forces

Fewer Government Companies - Less Coercion

State Conversion and the Law of Return

Jewish Civil Law


Chief Rabbinate

Local Rabbinate

Financing Yeshivot and Humanities




Introduction and Guidelines

Judaism and State – Distance to Foster a Liberty-Based Meeting


Identity Crisis

The Jewish religion developed from within the Torah of Israel to preserve the identity of the People of Israel in exile. In the unnatural state of the Temple’s destruction, the loss of our Homeland, the disintegration of our nation into isolated communities and widespread dispersion throughout all the possible exiles, which were usually hostile to the Jews, the Jewish religion miraculously succeeded in preserving Jewish identity. However, once the nation returned to its Homeland, religion alone no longer sufficed - from a cultural and spiritual perspective - to support a complete and living people.

Moreover, a significant part of the Zionist movements,[1] which actually contained sufficient energy to gather up the “dry bones” and build anew a living body of a nation in its Homeland, saw religion and its manifestations as a stumbling block. The process of the Return to Zion and adherence to the Jewish religion were often viewed as contradictory – both by many religious Jews and by the secular Zionist pioneers.

In our time, all parts of our society find themselves in a fundamental crisis. Zehut sees this crisis as both the greatest danger to the future of the State of Israel and its greatest potential for progress. Like all deep and great crises.

Coercion: The Dam that Creates a Dead-End

The main stumbling block preventing this dynamic from developing into a flood of healthy synthesis is coercion – cultural coercion, religious coercion, and secular coercion. All those involved have a common interest – an identity that is deep-rooted and meaningful for our country and ourselves.  However, all the parties shy away from promoting our common identity whenever any group imagines that another group is trying to force its way of life down their throats.

Thus, on the one hand, there is a law in Israel that prohibits the sale of chametz on Passover, but anyone can sell chametz to his heart’s content.[2] On the other hand, Israel has no law requiring Jews to circumcise their sons, and even so, an absolute majority gladly performs Jewish circumcision, which is not “religion” but simply “our identity.” Similarly, the State of Israel funds artists who have nothing to do with the culture of the vast majority of the public, and on the other side, whole communities in the state continually feel culturally discriminated against, for the benefit of other groups.

The Concept of “Sawing” Religion from State

The holy side starts with separation and finishes with connection

–Zohar, Saba D’Mishpatim 95


Within the framework of the inner wisdom of Judaism, called “Kabbalah,” there is an idea called “Nesira” (sawing),[3] which expresses the separation of things that are connected in the first place, to be reconnected in a complete, correct, and more moral manner.

This basic Jewish perception of the hidden good in separating things that are connected for the purpose of enabling a true and free meeting between them afterwards is our perception with respect to Israel, its culture and its Jewishness.

It is time to apply this kind of “sawing” between the State on the one hand and culture and religion on the other, and to allow them to reconnect on the basis of true liberty and true and vital expression.

Not a State of all its Citizens

We do not believe in a state of all its citizens, which is a concept foreign to the Jewish People, its Torah and its culture. On the contrary, this idea is a complete distortion, and not truly possible, because it has no basis in reality. The State of Israel was established to be the state of the Jewish People in particular. As a national state, it is intended to reflect the Jewish nation and to be an expression of its values, its culture, its religion, its aspirations, and its path and purpose in the world. This fundamental stance does not need to be expressed the way it is expressed today.

Individual, Community and State

In the community chapter of the section “Governmental Structure,” we introduced the simple and obvious truth that the place for most of the debate on religion and state is not on the axis between the individual and the state, but rather between the individual and the community in which he lives. The state has neither the tools nor the ability to define and regulate the culture and identity of its citizens from above in a satisfactory way, just as it does not have the ability to do so in the economic sphere.

The Opposite of the Status Quo

Thus, the way in which Israel’s Jewishness has been expressed so far, as part of the famous status quo, is the exact opposite of what Zehut intends to promote. Instead of the Jewishness of the state being expressed less and less on the public and national level and more and more on the level of interference in the lifestyle of the citizen, we suggest the opposite. The principles of liberty, identity and meaning bring us to an understanding that in order for Jewish identity to be the heritage of the public in the State of Israel, and in order for a truly deep-rooted and living culture to grow here, the correct approach is:

The lifestyle of the citizen, his Shabbats, his marriages, his eating, his culture, his education, and his religion – are private affairs and the affairs of the community in which he chooses to live, and it is better to reduce state involvement in them.

By contrast, the official image of the state: law, economics, ethics of war, foreign policy, domestic policy, the ingathering of the exiles and conversion, the relationship to the Land of Israel, the state language and the conduct of official institutions – all of these are the arena in which the Jewishness of the state as a state should be truly expressed.

From these basic guidelines, we can look at the various aspects of Zehut’s policies one by one.




The State of Israel and its Institutions

The Obligation of State Institutions to Jewish Law

All state institutions and all government organizations will continue to run according to Jewish law as accepted by the People of Israel in the areas of Shabbat, holidays, and kashrut, as a simple and fundamental expression of the State of Israel being a Jewish State.

This does not constitute a compromise designed to allow the integration of the religious in these and other institutions, but rather, is a basic and simple national principle: Official institutions of the state of Israel will not act on behalf of the state against Jewish law as accepted by the People of Israel with no reason. That would conflict with the status of the state as a representative of the people for the sake of whom it exists and operates.

This is actually the current situation, but the way in which this reality is perceived in Israel is not helpful for ending the overall struggle on the dimensions and areas of coercion. That is why this principle, which really should be completely basic, has become a political question that periodically provokes a public outcry.

Against this barren process, which has lasted almost 100 years, the principle of the commitment of state institutions to Jewish law is not the first step in imposing religious law on the entire country. Just the opposite: precisely because governmental institutions are governmental, they are obligated to Jewish law, and if they weren’t governmental, they would not be bound by it.

With the same certainty with which we insist that the Knesset cafeteria food must be kosher, we must also insist that a private business owner should have the freedom to choose whether or not to provide kosher food for his company. With the same certainty with which we insist that Israel Railways and the electric company (so long as they constitute parts of the government) observe Shabbat in their regular operations, so too do we insist that the state not determine if private companies and factories are permitted to work on Shabbat. This choice should be in the hands of the local communities.

Israel Defense Forces


As was rightly determined by David Ben-Gurion and Rabbi Shlomo Goren in the period during which the IDF was being established,[4] the food served in the IDF will be kosher and Sabbath observance in the IDF will be government-endorsed and mandatory for operational activities. An order requiring violation of the Sabbath for no operational reason will be considered a patently illegal order[5] that justifies refusal of that order.[6]  Similarly, in the framework of military service, the right to maintain a lifestyle that is committed to Jewish law without being attacked for it will be guaranteed by the military.

This basic framework, which was a compromise designed to allow religious soldiers to serve in the IDF in ordinary – not separate – units, is not a compromise. Rather, it is a mandatory reality from a moral, national, and governmental perspective. A national framework that represents the People of Israel on the one hand, but on the other hand drafts everyone into service by coercion, is clearly obligated to provide all who join its ranks conditions in accordance with the beliefs of their Jewish culture.

Education Force and Jewish Consciousness

On the other hand, the use of the military in recent years, and in the past, to re-educate the soldiers, turning the military into the hottest battlefield in the State of Israel between trends of secularization and trends of returning to religious observance, misses the point of the military’s role in society.

An existential national framework such as the military, which enjoys the exclusive right of forced recruitment of the public, is not entitled to engage in coercive education of those who join its ranks beyond what a fighting spirit necessitates. The army is not a place for mandatory attendance at inspirational assemblies leading up to the High Holy Days, as was done in the fifties; nor is it the place for mandatory workshops on democracy, pluralism and equality, as is the case today. The role of the IDF’s educational system is to boost the fighting spirit and instill the ethics of fighting in the soldiers. Nothing more, nothing less.[7]

Mixed Army Units

Zehut’s approach towards this issue is similar to its attitude towards education. The job of the IDF is to win wars and maintain the security of the State of Israel. It is not its role to serve either as a melting pot or a human laboratory. The criteria by which to test the essential suitability of women for combat roles is first and foremost operational.

On the other hand, the manner of the integration of women with men in combat roles in particular, and the army in general, must be carried out keeping in mind the moral world of the all the soldiers, and the norms of modesty to which society is committed. There is no reason at all to require a soldier to hear women sing, and there is certainly no justification for requiring soldiers to serve in mixed units that do not allow them to maintain minimal conditions of modesty.

However, women may be integrated into all military roles that do not cause operational harm, will benefit the military in its duties, and will not make it impossible to serve due to boundaries of modesty and Jewish law[8]- as long as the model of conscription practiced today continues.[9]

Fewer Government Companies – Less Coercion

The reality in which the public transportation companies, the railway, and El-Al are fully or partially government organizations is responsible for the fact that these organizations are shut down on Shabbat, thereby depriving those interested in their services of their mobility. So long as these organizations operate on taxpayer money and represent the official State of Israel, they cannot ignore all that is involved in this representation.

When these companies are privatized and the market opened to private companies, the question of their operation on Shabbat will be subject to local community decision[10] rather than to mandatory state law. In this way the sting will be taken out of the allegations of coercion and deprivation, and we will also be able to enjoy the economic benefits of privatization.



[1] The intention is to the Zionist movements and their tendencies. The people who made up these movements were always varied in their positions. The distance between the People of Israel and its original identity was never as big as it seemed on the surface and from public declarations.

[2] Notably, this was done under the auspices of the High Court, which in a show of judicial activism significantly narrowed the definition of “public domain” in which it is forbidden to sell chametz, grossly distorting the intent of the legislature. On the problem with this type of conduct – see the chapter on the judicial system in Part 2, “Structure of the Government.”

[3] The Torah says that man was created initially as a man and a woman joined together, and were later separated. The purpose of this process is the reunion of man and woman out of free will, face to face. This need to separate is due to the fact that the forced connection between man and women, in an involuntary manner, did not lead to the desired creation of a true and deep relationship of mutual respect between them. As it is written in the Torah: “And man did not find a helpmate.” On the other hand, the fact that there was an initial connection testifies to and also entrenches the final desire in a more correct encounter. Kabbalah calls this process of separation of man and woman "sawing," and sees in it a general paradigm for cutting an artificial connection for the sake of a later true connection.

[4] Contrary to the opinion of the religious (part of the then National Religious Party) and secular (Mapam headed by Zisling), who both acted against these conclusions, and did not see in the unity of the People of Israel a value worthy of effort or compromise.

[5] Also per the determination of David Ben-Gurion regarding the position of Chief Military Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Goren against Chief of Staff Haim Laskov.

[6] On the other hand, Jewish law states clearly that carrying out necessary military orders on Shabbat, and even on Yom Kippur, is a positive mitzvah, a commandment that must be fulfilled.

[7] All military units should contribute, directly or indirectly, to the purpose for which they exist, defense of the State of Israel. There is no place in the IDF to conduct activities unrelated to the purpose of the existence of the IDF, which is fighting to defend the state or to deter the enemy from fighting.

[8] Night guard duty and nighttime patrols in pairs, as well as mixed sleeping in the field are just some of the situations that arise when men and women serve together in combat roles. The norms that the army enforces in rear-line units are inapplicable within the framework of field units.

[9] In this regard, it should be noted that as long as the existing conscription model continues, we must enable and encourage the existence of tracks and units with a higher level of separation, in order to enable acceptable service conditions for the Haredi population.

[10] The question of local communities is not relevant to Ben Gurion Airport.

State Conversion and the Law of Return

Completing the Process of Ingathering the Exiles

National Conversion According to Jewish Law

The State of Israel was established not only for those Jews who were in the Land of Israel during its establishment, but for the entire Jewish People. In this respect, the State of Israel was established to enact the Law of Return.[1] Therefore, it is justly the main legislative anchor that ties the State of Israel to the Jewish People. Israel is obligated to give citizenship to every Jew,[2] but the definition of Jewishness is dependent upon Judaism itself – the Torah. Therefore, the State of Israel must have a state authority that determines who is a Jew.[3] The authority to define Jewishness, for purposes of eligibility under the Law of Return, has been justly placed in the hands of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, as it is the closest thing to a national body – representing Judaism – with decision making authority.[4]

Judaism, as we know, is neither racist nor proselytizing, and therefore, the path to Judaism is open to anyone in the world, from any background, through the framework of conversion, if he desires it of his own volition. Because of this, conversion in the State of Israel and abroad has been made subject to the supervision of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

The debate on the general framework of conversion courts, and the nature of the Chief Rabbinate’s supervision of the process in Israel and abroad is a complex and largely professional debate.[5] The issue has given rise to a tangle of slogans, but the following general principle is correct, just, and vital:

Conversion, which confers the right to immigrate to Israel and receive Israeli citizenship through the Law of Return, must be performed according to Jewish law as accepted by the People of Israel, by Jewish courts that have been authorized by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

The conversion question as it applies to marriage registration is irrelevant to us, because Zehut proposes the elimination of the marriage registry.

Who is Entitled to Immigrate?  – Update of the Law of Return

The Law of Return was enacted on the heels of the Holocaust and its horrors. At the time it seemed logical not to bar people who had been singled out by the Nazis and survived the concentration and extermination camps as Jews from immigrating to Israel and becoming citizens in cases where they were not Jewish according to Jewish law.[6]

Consequently, the Law of Return is defined on the basis of Jewish law, while expanding the radius of influence even to the children and grandchildren of Jews, and their spouses. Thus, a Jew married to a non-Jewish woman passes his eligibility for citizenship to his wife and all his children and grandchildren, even if he is the only Jew among them according to Jewish law.

The claim for expanding the Law of Return, despite the great human logic of it, could have been better answered even then, if they had forgone citizenship and enabled immigration and permanent residency alone. In fact, this solution was employed with respect to Jews who had converted to Christianity, in the wake of the Brother Daniel case.[7] Despite what has  already been established, it is high time to apply a better solution for the future.

The Situation Today

This extension of the Law of Return to the descendants of Jews who are not Jewish according to Jewish law, up to the third generation, has led to harsh criticism by certain personalities, such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe and others over many decades. It has not, however, garnered significant political response. The subject was considered only theoretical, because the “working hypothesis” was that someone who isn’t Jewish and Zionist will in any case not immigrate to the State of Israel, unless he is being persecuted in his country, while countries with a high rate of assimilation are not countries where Jews are persecuted.

This assumption has become incorrect, just as the premise of conversion has become incorrect.[8] Underlying conversion is the assumption that a non-Jew who wants to convert is motivated by idealistic reasons, because living as a Jew is much more difficult than living as a non-Jew. This can no longer be assumed. The State of Israel is a prosperous and progressive country, an excellent migration destination and favored by people from all over the world, especially places where there was an assimilated Jewish population.

The huge wave of immigration from the dismantled countries of the Soviet Union that arrived in the State of Israel at the beginning of the nineties was the first mass expression of this phenomenon. CIS countries, some of which were on the verge of true starvation, had more than enough grandchildren of Jews who wanted to immigrate to the State of Israel, as well as mixed couples of Jews and non-Jews, whose numbers reached tens of thousands. Thus, for the first time, a reality of a significant minority that was not Arab and not Jewish according to Jewish law was created in Israel.

The large wave of immigration from the Soviet Union was only the starting point. Continuous and stable immigration from CIS countries now numbers in the thousands... people who aren’t Jewish according to Jewish law, and whose ties with Judaism are less and less clear, both from a perspective of Jewish law and from a national perspective.[9]

This phenomenon significantly endangers the Jewish character of Israel, and carries the potential for an assimilation crisis in the country, while the historical justification it had close to the establishment of the state continues to dissipate. The existence of a growing minority of the population that has no national or religious connection to the Jewish People is significant, and it has an impact on the country’s image far more than that of the Arab minority. This is because the Arab minority does not blur the identity of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People. On the other hand, the blurring of boundaries between Jews and non-Jews from the CIS is liable to bring about, for the first time, a serious rupture between the Israeli identity and the Jewish one, which will be anchored in a familial reality of mixed marriages on a national scale.

Moreover, because many of the non-Jewish immigrants to Israel come as migrant workers and for quality of life, Israel must put the issue on the table and treat it as migration, rather than as a continuation of the process of ingathering of the exiles.


The Proposed Amendment - Reducing the Gap

As such, the time has come to change the Law of Return and to reduce the gap between it and the national-Jewish definition of Judaism in this way:

  1. Only a Jew according to Jewish law will be entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, along with his wife and minor children, if they are not Jewish.

  2. The right to immigrate will be granted to Jews according to Jewish law, as well as to their spouses, their parents, and their children who come with them, even if they are not considered Jews according to Jewish law, but not grandchildren.

  3. The status of adult children who are not Jewish according to Jewish law and choose to immigrate will be permanent residency.


Finishing the Process of the Ingathering of the Exiles and the Return to Zion

The processes described above come on the backdrop of our proximity to completing the process of ingathering of the People of Israel to its Land. The fact that most of the People of Israel are currently located in the Land of Israel is a momentous turning point in history.

Currently, world Jewry outside of Israel is mostly in countries in which there is not a significant danger of persecution. However, those Jews are in the process of severe assimilation. This does not mean there are no more large Jewish communities that are likely to make aliyah to Israel in the coming years and decades. We anticipate that tens or hundreds of thousands of French Jews will join will join us soon. However, the reality in which the Jewish population abroad continues to assimilate rapidly, while most of the world’s Jewish population is located in Israel and is stable in its Jewishness, also demands the change we are proposing.



[1] In fact, the Law of Return was passed in an orderly fashion only after the actual absorption and naturalization of hundreds of thousands of Jews, which explains the axiomatic nature of this law in the State of Israel.


[2] Excluding Jews who converted to another religion, who thereby exclude themselves from identification with the Jewish People.

[3] The question “Who is a Jew” is relevant to the State of Israel in a variety of other areas, among the most central being conscription into the army. This concept is quite rightly applied in the country on grounds of nationality, since the State of Israel is indeed the state of the Jewish People specifically; and in any case, the fundamental responsibility for its existence – expressed in mandatory army service – is the domain of this nation. However, in practice, we do not treat this issue according to the criteria of Jewish law – which creates further complications.

[4] Though still very far from it.

[5] Our detailed proposal on this subject appears in the platform in the chapter "Revolution in Jewish life."

[6] That is, in practice, children of a non-Jewish mother.

[7] Brother Daniel, the alias of Oswald Rufeisen. Born a Jew, Rufeisen survived the Holocaust, during which time he converted to Christianity. After the Holocaust, he wanted to immigrate to Israel, but it was decided that he was not eligible to immigrate according to the Law of Return, as the Law of Return does not apply to Jews who changed their religion.

[8] The understanding that this axiom of conversion would one day become irrelevant is expressed in the Jewish laws which state that “we do not accept converts in the days of the Messiah,” because then it will no longer be possible to distinguish between those who come to convert out of idealism, and those who come to convert out of self-interest.

[9] While at the beginning of the influx of immigrants, most of the immigrants were Jewish according to Jewish law by a factor of more than ⅔, the number of Jews according to Jewish law among immigrants from the FSU a decade later dropped to only one third.

Jewish Civil Law

An Identity-Based Alternative

“The hold of Jewish civil law on us is many-layered.  It is our religion, the basis of our heritage, and the essential expression of the concept of our identity, all together…  In the same way as the Land of Israel and the Hebrew language… we wish in the first place and specifically, for good or for ill, so to speak, we also desire the renewal of Jewish civil law!”

                                                                                                          Shabtai Ben-Dov, Jewish Law and the State of Israel[1]


The Vision

Law and justice are not neutral technical tools for regulating the conduct of our lives, but are rather the state expression of the culture, values ​​and national identity of a nation with its country.

This is especially true with respect to the People of Israel, whose original legal system, Jewish law, was perceived throughout the ages and throughout the Diaspora as a fundamental expression of the Jewish way of life – not only in religious areas, but rather primarily in the areas of civil law.

Zehut will act for the revival of Jewish law, in its entirety, as a civil judgment alternative, parallel to the existing system of civil law,[2] that will enjoy the full recognition of the State for those who choose to use it.

The establishment of this system will be a key and underlying element of the national Jewish identity of the state, and a cornerstone of the revival of Jewish culture as a comprehensive national culture.

The Actual Situation and the Arbitration Compromise

Due to circumstances at the time of the establishment of the state, Jewish civil law did not receive its proper place in the State of Israel. It should have been the foundation of the Israeli legal system, as it is our law and part of our identity as a Jewish state. Specifically, Jewish civil law has advantages over the existing law even from a practical utilitarian standpoint.[3] Currently, Jewish civil law as a whole has no defined status in Israel,[4] whose legal system is based on an improvised combination of previous legal systems, particularly British law.

It is true that anyone who wants to be tried in civil matters today under religious law can turn to private courts, which have the status of an arbitrator whose decisions are backed by the state. This option is certainly important, and many courts that serve an increasingly diverse population have grown up in its framework.[5] This option, however, has no connection at all with the identity of the State of Israel as a state. Similarly, it is possible to open a civil court with the status of arbitrator that rules according to the laws of Hammurabi or according to Turkish law, so long as it does not conflict with the laws of the state.

Statehood-Status of the Law, and a Jewish State

The judicial system is one of the fundamental elements of the concept of the state, and one of its central raisons d’etre.[6] For Judaism, mankind’s obligation to maintain a justice system that enables a life of law that aspires to justice is a universal fundamental obligation that precedes the Torah and its commandments, and is the only “positive” commandment that applies to all of humanity.[7]

This centrality dictates how natural it is for the identity of a state to be expressed in its legal system. The State of Israel is currently doing the opposite, abandoning its Jewish identity (even by coercion) in areas related specifically to private life, such as kashrut and marriage. Zehut opposes the assumption that this is a natural and correct situation. The hidden treasures of Jewish civil law should receive legal status in the State of Israel, simply because it is a Jewish state.

The Problem with Integration Attempts

“… The method of bringing the spirit of the Torah into those laws that contradict the Torah creates an illusion … there is no benefit in all this. There is even damage. Half truths are worse than lies … The main struggle should be to expand the powers of the rabbinic courts …”

                                                                                                                                Rabbi Shaul Israeli, “Torah Law and State Law”[8]

Since the establishment of the state (and even before that), and to this day, there is a lot of talk about the need to integrate Jewish civil law into the national law of the State of Israel. Parties that claim to pay homage to Jewish identity have proclaimed their commitment to this idea for the past 70 years. Sometimes it is in very softened demands, such as deriving inspiration from legal sources in Judaism, and sometimes it is in more strident demands, such as adopting the Torah and its Jewish law as the constitution of the State of Israel.[9]

The Problem of Distortion

This approach has had its ups and downs in terms of its implementation on the ground, and it is possible to find an important example of it in the preface to Basic Law: Judging, which states that “in this spirit”:

“If the court sees a legal question that requires a decision, but does not find an answer in legislation, in case law, or by way of analogy, it should determine it in light of the principles of liberty, justice, equity and peace of Israel’s heritage.”

Ostensibly, this is a real commitment to address Jewish sources as sources of Israeli justice as defined by law. However, consideration of this phrasing reveals that this “obligation” is not at all concrete, and is not connected even peripherally to any specific content, and in particular not to specific laws and specific principles of Jewish civil law as written.

Moreover, even when Jewish civil law is inserted into the Israeli state legal system, it is always done by taking those parts of Jewish civil law that match the worldview of “justice, equity and peace,” as the judges understand it. The parts that they do not perceive as such are blithely omitted, significantly distorting the original content in the process.[10]

The Problem of Coercion

The other side of the distortion coin is coercion. Coercion in religious law is essentially a primary obstacle to applying Jewish civil law in all its details to the State of Israel as exclusive law.  Only someone who is interested in ignoring this basic problem can honestly advance an agenda of adopting Jewish civil law as binding law on all citizens.[11]

Another, more practical aspect of the problem of coercion in applying Jewish civil law as the legal norm of the State of Israel is the requirement, included in such application, for judges who aren’t committed to Judaism in any practical way to judge according to Jewish laws and the basic assumptions of those laws – which are replete with ethical content stemming directly from Judaism, and which derive legal solutions from it. It would be naive to demand that Aaron Barak judge according to Jewish civil law and expect that he will agree to do so in a manner that is "true to the source."

Practical Failure of Integration into Civil Law

In the 1960s, as part of the Department of Law Planning in the Justice Ministry, Shabtai Ben-Dov, one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the last century, undertook the enormous job of formulating civil law directly from Jewish sources. Ben Dov was well aware of the problems inherent in his experiment, in light of the above problems, and justified it thus:

"There may be historical significance to things in a roundabout way, if we don't adopt "two holding a tallit" approach in isolation, but rather recognize the virtue of a tractate of Hebrew Laws as such, or at least if a legal system enacted by the Knesset will simply and deliberately reframe the tractate of laws in accordance with the Torah of Israel, in a manner in which understanding the new wording would require the interpreter to return to the (Jewish) sources.”

But even Ben Dov rejected the introduction of Jewish foundations into civil law as mere "decorations,”  while on the other hand he clearly understood that it is impossible to embed the totality of Jewish civil law into the law of the state.

At any rate, his great work, which has not been equaled ever since, was summarily shelved when the Justice Minister was replaced, on the grounds of impracticality. This put an end to orderly attempts with a systemic perspective to integrate Jewish civil law into existing legislation.

If this method had a chance to really bear fruit a few decades ago, today there is no benefit in trying to continue to graft together two unlike entities, neither from a practical nor essential standpoint. The reverberating practical failure of attempts to apply this approach in the field over seven decades reflects its inherent failure.

The Solution: An Identity Alternative

In recognition of the irrelevance of replacing the existing state law state with Jewish law, and in recognition of the existential need to lend both principled and practical state expression to Jewish law as an expression of the Jewish identity of the state, Zehut has chosen a new-old path within Judaism itself, which gives room for both systems in parallel.

… The appointment of judges (the Sanhedrin) was to judge only laws of the Torah ... and appointment of the King (the government) was to complete the political order and everything needed for that time.

(Drashot HaRan, Drasha XI)

Judaism has always recognized the authority of the state court system, which operates according to rules that do not match the halacha – alongside the Jewish legal system, a state system designed to regulate practical problems in national life that have no easy solution within the framework of halacha.

In this spirit, Zehut will act to define Jewish civil law as the parallel civil law recognized in Israel. It will be autonomous of parliamentary legislation, as religious legislation has always been autonomous of state intervention. The validity of rulings of the Jewish courts recognized by the state would be the same as the validity of the rulings of civil courts, subject to two exceptions listed below.


Civil Law for Interested Parties


The Irrelevance of Jewish Law in Criminal Law

The jurisdiction of the Hebrew courts will cover only civil law, not criminal law. That is, the state will not prosecute thieves and murderers through Jewish courts, but by the existing national legal system only. This is not just a technical compromise resulting from the difficulty of running a country with two parallel and contradictory legal systems, but also on an essential level.

It is true that, from a Jewish perspective, Torah courts absolutely discussed criminal matters and handed down penalties. But anyone who knows at least something in the field of Jewish law, knows that Jewish law has not dealt with institutional state criminal law for 2000 years. This surrender of authority was deliberate and conscious. Now, Judaism has nothing to offer in the field. Concerning civil law, which includes the entire range of laws of finances, just the opposite is true: the continuity of engagement on these issues from within the walls of the courts of Israel has never ceased.

Complete Absence of Coercion

Jewish courts authorized by the State will be allowed to meet only in cases where both sides state explicitly that they want to lay out their arguments before the Jewish Court. In the event that one of the parties will not be interested, the Jewish Court would be prevented from addressing the claim and the parties will be directed to general civil law.

Just as the national status of Jewish law should be a central theme of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, so this identity must not be compelled by force of law for those who do not identify with it.

Jewish law is not neutral. It is rooted in Jewish culture upon all its aspects and its use as a tool for solving legal problems should be made by choice.

The Practical Implication - State Backing and Autonomy

The essential difference between the status Zehut seeks to reach and the current situation is the question of sovereignty of Jewish law. We propose that when a Jewish court rules in the legal case between two parties who are interested in its services, the ruling would be binding under the laws of Israel regardless of the existing legal system. Authorities will be obliged to implement the Jewish Court's judgments by virtue of their status as state courts as they are obligated to implement the civil court rulings today.

Moreover, when one of the parties appeals the judgment of the Court, he will appeal to a higher court within the Jewish Court system. Once he has decided that his case will be judged by Jewish law, he shall not have the right to apply to another court in this matter and the general civil law will not have jurisdiction to deal with it until a verdict is handed down.


The Revival of Judaism as a Relevant National Culture

The granting of official status to Jewish law and the emergence of a judiciary system that serves the public thereunder will constitute a foundational milestone of Judaism's unburdening of the small-mindedness of  the exile in the areas of lifestyle and commandments concerning individuals only. It will constitute the return of Judaism to what it always was meant to be: a complete national culture that relates to and solves all problems of life, both mundane and religious, on the collective individual level according to its own assumptions and sources.

When the current Israeli (secular and religious alike) realizes that the Jewish law offered by the Torah is better at finding solutions to the legal problems of everyday life than existing government systems imported from other nations, this will be Judaism's real breakthrough into national relevance.


[1] Ladder to the Destined Kingdom of Israel – writings of Shabtai Ben-Dov edited by Yehuda Etzion. Volume III, page 64.

[2] The existence of such a dual legal system does not really contradict Judaism, as it might seem at first sight. Jewish law already recognizes a dual justice system in a Jewish state, and the completion of the Jewish justice system by a civil justice system, as expressed clearly in The Book of Sermons of the Ra”n, Sermon XI.

[3] Particularly noteworthy is the firm position of Jewish civil law against furthering intolerable extensions of legal proceedings, indefinitely, known in Jewish law as “oppression of justice.” Jewish civil law does not recognize the legitimacy of dragging out legal proceedings as is the practice in existing civil law. Dragging out justice over an indefinite time is one of the basic factors that makes the existing legal system almost irrelevant to solving the legal problems of ordinary citizens who are unable to free up all of their time and financial resources for the benefit of the legal process.

[4] In existing courts for Monetary Affairs there is a status of “arbitrator” alone, just as in any private entity that deals with arbitration.

[5] Today, there are about 40 such courts active across the country.

[6] The very word for “state” in Hebrew (medinah) is derived from the root “law” (din). This reflects the conceptual identity obvious to our ancestors between the judicial system and the state that sustains it and is established for its sake.

[7] “The first man was commanded regarding six things: idolatry, blasphemy, bloodshed, incest, and theft (all of these are prohibitions), and justice (this is a positive commandment).” Maimonides, Laws of Kings, Chapter Nine.

[8] From the book The Rabbinate and the State, article “Torah Law and State Law,” Page 316 in the 5775 edition, Mossad HaRav Kook.

[9] Such statements are more for the sake of the constituents of the parties that utter them, because it is clear to all that they have no real relevance for implementation in the State of Israel.

[10] That is what Former Chief Justice Aharon Barak wrote on this subject. His approach to the subject reflects the prevailing attitude of his time, the time prior, and the time subsequent: “It is proper and desirable for Jewish civil law, through whose inspiration, statutory provisions were enacted, to constitute a source of inspiration for interpretation; i.e., to expand the horizon and range of interpretive and expansive vision, thereby creating additional depth for interpretive creation. But the determination between the various options is our decision, without external legal constraints and without priority or preference given to any other method, whatever may happen to us … “

[11] Actually, it is quite convenient for all concerned. Those interested in Jewish civil law can claim to be acting on its behalf to its constituents, and whoever is not interested in it can always block it because it involves coercion.

123 Shabtai Ben-Dov, Jewish Law and the State of Israel, edition of "The Kingdom of Israel the Appointed Time Scale," edited by Yehuda Etzion, Volume III, page 61.

Identity and Independence in Culture

The Vision: Independent Cultural and Spiritual Flourishing

As a matter of principle – that is supported by reality – the state should not interfere in matters of culture and religion. It should not intervene through funding or be involved in “guidance.” A policy of non-interference will benefit both culture and religion, and especially the people from whom culture and religion come and to which they return.

We see before us a vision of a tremendous national, cultural flourishing and the emergence of wonderful powers of creativity in the State of Israel. These new energies will grow directly from the people without the need for a governmental middleman. We want to see cultural creativity rooted in the people, who invite and participate in cultural creativity; culture that expresses itself through the people on the very highest levels, culture that is currently hidden within the people, waiting to be actualized.

“As long as we are missing a single sketch hidden in the depth of the soul, which has not been actualized, there remains an obligation on the work of art to bring it out,” wrote Rabbi Kook,[1] and this is indeed the duty of art and artists. But this does not mean that there is a duty for the public to fund it. Culture should not be a tax imposed on the public by force. Cultural creativity based on taxation of the population and division according to government criteria creates a culture that sees no need to correspond with the values ​​and desires of the public, but rather sees the public as a target for education for its own purposes, but at their expense. This is an immoral position. If an artist wishes to educate the public, as artists with a moral mission do, he can do so with his own money or the money of his benefactors and supporters, but not from the funds of the public that he wishes to influence.

The same is true of religion and tradition. Indeed, religion is part of culture and culture is part of religion, particularly among the Jewish people.

The Situation Today

In the State of Israel, taxpayer funding for cultural activity on the national and municipal level is considered a given, and those who oppose it are denounced as the enemies of culture in general. The battle against Israeli communalism is not merely about government involvement in the financing of culture, but rather on the objectives of this funding. Moreover, while the question of the government’s cultural goals occasionally comes to the headlines in the context of this or that scandal, most of the organized funding for cultural institutions, which passes through the municipalities through municipal taxes, flows without anyone wondering how it is distributed, as long as the headlines do not produce a scandal.

But the scandals that float to the surface periodically in the news are nothing more than an expression of a fundamentally flawed reality, one in which at any given time, every citizen, through the national and municipal taxes he pays, funds cultural, moral and religious content ​​that he does not identify with and even strongly opposes.

Why should an ultra-Orthodox person participate in the funding of a soccer stadium that neither he nor his children or grandchildren will ever enter, when he is also a vehement opponent of the culture that this stadium represents? Why should a person who has nothing in common with the observance of Jewish law fund cantorial performances in synagogues? Why should a national religious person fund the Archaeology Department of the Israel Museum, which tells its visitors that the People of Israel are descendants of the Canaanites, and that the God of Israel is the incarnation of a Canaanite idol? Moreover, why should citizens’ funds be diverted from funding culture into political channels that fundamentally contradict the values of these same citizens?

When the Israel Broadcasting Authority produced a cinematic version of Hirbet Hiza almost forty years ago, debate raged over the use of public funds to produce works far removed from the moral and political consensus.[2] Against these claims, even then, were raised arguments regarding the freedom of creativity and the danger of censorship and “silencing,” and about the freedom of art and the importance of open cultural discourse.

In 2010, the Habima Theatre announced that it would refuse to perform in Ariel, because performing in a “settlement” contradicted the moral consciousness of its actors. Storms raged, because this was a state-sponsored institution and a compromise was reached. In 2016, the Minister of Culture announced that she wanted to impose huge fines on state-sponsored cultural institutions that refuse to appear in places like Ariel and Kiryat Arba for political reasons.[3]

Zehut believes that both sides are absolutely right. “Who even wants to go to a play put on by actors who are there against their will?” asked Zehut chairman Moshe Feiglin at that time.[4] It is clear that artists are supposed to act according to their consciences, and it is also clear that those who receive a government budget must carry out the role that the government hired them to perform. The problem is the method, not the people.  Habima performers should not have to appear in Ariel if they do not want to, and the citizens of Ariel should not have to fund Habima activity.

In Israel, a simple truth has been forgotten: Conscientious freedom and free, revolutionary and avant-garde artistic creation present an inherent contradiction to government funding.  Either the people’s money is directed against the people and their values, or artists are forced to give up their integrity.

Full Cultural Independence

In principle, and in practice as well, culture does not necessarily need any support, and it can often be a successful business in its own right. Popular television series produced today are certainly impressive cultural works, for better or for worse, and no one imagines they need government or municipal funding. The Harry Potter books did not need government funding, and the profits earned from them could finance governments, not vice versa. 

The same can be said of any kind of cultural activity, such as theater, dance, music, poetry, football, wrestling, and lectures to the general public. If such activity can finance itself from the sale of tickets, or donations from philanthropists – good.  And if not, then the public voted against it with their feet, and in any case the state should not have any interest in funding it.

This position makes great sense, but it is very far from the prevailing perception in Israel, and it may also be distant from human nature in general, although it can certainly be seen as an ideal. A situation in which every person is willing to invest his money proactively in values ​​that he adheres to, just as he is willing to invest in his personal needs, is an ideal situation for which to strive. But in practice, Zehut does not suggest going to the extreme of denying any possibility of public funding, even if it is voluntary, because this would be contrary to Israeli culture and perhaps to human nature. The solution presented below enables us to reach the goal of cultural independence in a realistic way.

Zehut’s Outline for Funding Culture

Closing the Ministry of Culture

The Ministry of Culture will be closed, gradually, together with most direct national governmental interference in the funding and direction of culture. Financing culture from tax funds will take place at city and neighborhood levels, and not at the state level.


Financing Municipal Culture Through Municipal Tax

Despite the large budget of the Ministry of Culture and its distribution arms, today most of the culture budget in the State of Israel comes from the municipal level. And we believe that this is also proper and correct, with one important reservation. Today this is accomplished within the framework of the municipal taxes included in the arnona-tax. The Zehut party’s plan is to separate taxes for culture and religion from ordinary municipal taxes, and to make them voluntary taxes.

Zehut, however, stands behind the citizen’s right not to fund, even at the municipal level, cultural and value-based activity that he is not interested in, and even opposes. The reality in which the public is constantly forced to fund activity that is contrary to its values ​​so that the activity that matches its values ​​will also be financed is the opposite of moral independence, which is the basis for a deep culture.

Under Zehut’s voluntary funding model, public bodies will be prohibited by law to finance cultural institutions from funds that do not come from either the voluntary tax or from private donations. The voluntary tax revenues will only be used for cultural purposes.

Every resident of a local authority will have the right to choose not to pay the voluntary cultural tax. The local authority will determine the voluntary tax rate and may even divide it into a number of levels or allow each resident to pay as he pleases. The local authority shall have the right, if it chooses to use it, to provide cultural services, such as subsidized tickets, only to payers of the culture tax. It shall also have the right to use voluntary tax funds to provide cultural services for residents who cannot afford them. If the residents are not satisfied with the way the municipality uses the culture budget, they can simply choose not to fund it.

Culture Born of Identity and Responsibility

Under the proposed model, subsidized culture in Israel will give rise to renewed contact with the public. This will take place in the local, regional aspect, by allowing neighborhoods that differ by nature to invest their cultural budget in entirely different ways – even within the borders of one city. The public will also be connected on the basic economic level; culture that the public is not interested in will not be funded, as opposed to culture that the public is interested in, which will consequently receive its support.

This connection with the public is not something negative, vulgar, and inferior, as some try to present the claims about the public’s right not to consume the culture that artists offer it. The connection between cultural figures and the public, expressed in the willingness of the public to pay its artists, is the foundation of a culture that grows out of an existing identity and expresses it.

This policy is also a realization of the principle of civil responsibility. In order to decide to pay voluntary taxes, a person must develop a sense of civic responsibility many times greater than the norm in Israel. The responsibility of a person to the image of his community, expressed in his willingness to pay to shape its image, is precisely the guarantee of a truly free culture of liberty stemming from identity. It is also the basis for a life of meaning and reason – meaning and reason that only cultural life can give to man and society.


[1] Rav Kook’s introduction to the Song of Songs, which appears in the book of Olat Re’iya on the prayer book.

[2] The debate did not rage before, because when Mapai controlled the State of Israel, the use of public funds for cultural and political purposes seemed self-evident, and there was no surprise to anyone: The film adaptation of Khirbet Haz’a came into being after the rise of the Likud to power.

[3] An article on the site “Mako”

[4] Moshe Feiglin’s Facebook post, October 25, 2016.

Chief Rabbinate of Israel

At the time of its establishment by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel was a courageous and visionary attempt to create a governmental, national and fresh institution that would represent and lead Judaism in the Land of Israel. The hope was that this institution would develop and grow in the future into spiritual leadership of the entire People of Israel, in the form of the long-awaited Sanhedrin.[1]

Intentions are one thing and reality is another. The limited authority of the Chief Rabbinate,[2] and the constant erosion of its public legitimacy both among the secular and religious,[3] have led to a long and twisted, continuous process of deterioration even until today. The Chief Rabbinate is not perceived as a spiritual, innovative and legitimate leadership by almost anyone, especially in the national sphere,[4] but only as a clerical mechanism designed to regulate certain aspects of life that are relevant to religious issues. Whether it is regrettable or whether this situation should be seen as an opportunity, this reality is an existing fact.

Zehut does not oppose the very existence of a Torah leadership. On the contrary! Together with the rest of the people of Israel, we participate in the prayer that our judges should be restored as they originally were, and our counselors, as they were at the beginning, which is said three times a day and refers to the establishment of a united and recognized Torah leadership. Zehut, like Judaism itself, believes that there is no real rebirth of Judaism without such a Torah leadership. However, there is no point in pretending that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is this leadership. It is not, nor is it meant for that.

In order to allow, on the one hand, for the growth of authentic, local, communal and perhaps national leadership in the future, and on the other hand, to reduce the state’s involvement in the lives of the citizens by means of the Rabbinate, the Chief Rabbinate must be significantly reduced to dealing only with public issues. It must become “the rabbinate of the government and state institutions.”

As a rule, it is important to know that the Chief Rabbinate is, in fact, a very small body, relative to any other state institution. Its total budget is about 20 million shekels per year; it has only about 80 permanent employees and no permanent structure. The vast majority of the Israeli citizens’ encounter with the “rabbinate” is limited to contacts with the local rabbinate.

The Current Functions of the Chief Rabbinate

As surprising as it may be to someone not versed in the subtleties of the matter, the Chief Rabbinate has taken upon itself to be the rabbinic authority of every Jew in the State of Israel. Everyone agrees that within a neighborhood synagogue, the rabbi’s authority as regards the worshipers is greater than that of the Chief Rabbi of Israel, even if he is present. Even in the area of ​​kashrut, which is the dominant and most extensive area of ​​the Chief Rabbinate’s activity, the Chief Rabbis today have no authority to enforce a uniform standard of kashrut on the local rabbis who are responsible for kashrut. From the start, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel was not intended to rule on Jewish law for each and every Jew, but rather to constitute a public body that would regulate public issues, at the level of the State as a whole.

National roles

As part of the status quo, in which it was decided that the activities of the government and its institutions would comply with Jewish law in the areas of Shabbat and kashrut, the Chief Rabbinate was given the task of actualizing this agreement in practice.

In addition, every issue of Jewish law that arises at the national level regarding government activity, such as questions related to the nature of the activities of Israel Electric Company  and the Mekorot Water Company, as well as questions related to the implementation of large-scale infrastructure work, is decided, at least in principle, by the Chief Rabbinate.[5] These functions also include issues that require national preparation, such as the Heter Mechira for the Shemitah year,[6] the sale of chametz for Passover, etc., and these too are handled by the Chief Rabbinate. One of the most significant national areas of the Rabbinate is the administration of Holy Places.

Representative Roles

Another aspect of the Rabbinate’s activity is the ceremonial responsibility, which is the most prominent duty in the public eye, but the least significant in practice. The Chief Rabbis of Israel are given the honor of reciting Kaddish and prayers for the peace of the State during major state ceremonies, and that is the end of their representative role. In addition, they serve, like the president, as ambassadors, when necessary, who meet in Israel and abroad with world leaders, especially religious leaders around the world, as well as with Diaspora Jews.

National Regulatory Body

The Chief Rabbinate has various regulatory functions with powers to grant licenses and certificates as well as enforcement powers.

  • The Rabbinate conducts a variety of ordination exams in many areas.[7]

  • The Rabbinate maintains the overall kashrut system in the State of Israel, especially with respect to importing food from abroad.

  • The Rabbinate also maintains the supervision and accreditation system of mohels.

Head of Rabbinical Courts and Rabbinates

The Chief Rabbinate is responsible for the institution of the Grand Court of Appeals, which is the supreme judicial authority recognized by the State in the field of conversion, marriage and divorce.

Changing the Functions of the Chief Rabbinate

Unlike the local rabbinates, where Zehut proposes near revolutionary change, the proposals for the Chief Rabbinate are quite minor, and some are intended to strengthen the rabbinate so that it can fulfill the functions incumbent upon it.

From Kashrut Monopoly to Standard

In the current situation, the State of Israel has ownership of the word kashrut, which is expressed in the fact that the law forbids calling a product kosher unless it is recognized as kosher by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel or by local Rabbis with the authority to issue kosher certification.

This situation has led to large-scale and embarrassing corruption in the various kashrut departments at many levels, but even without the corruption, the very fact that the kashrut system is monopolistic has led to exorbitant prices for kashrut supervision relative to the quality of service of that supervision.

Another aspect of the kashrut monopoly, specifically as regards the religious public, has been arbitrary decisions in the area of ​​kashrut that have negated the customs of various communities and have constituted the basis for opening private associations in the form of “Badatzim,” which provide “supervision,” but are not legally permitted to call products “kosher.”

In contrast to the accepted meaning of the term, “Badatz” does not constitute an expression of kashrut requirements which are more strict than the requirements of the rabbinate, but rather indicates private kashrut supervision.

Zehut believes that the kashrut system must cease to be a monopoly in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate and local rabbinates. In place of the Chief Rabbinate and local rabbinates controlling kashrut, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel should create standards for the field of kashrut.

The kashrut standard will oblige anyone who advertises his product as kosher to indicate whether he complies with the Kashrut Standards of the Chief Rabbinate. The purpose is to prevent fraud and exploitation of customers who lack familiarity with the many details of kashrut and its laws. The kashrut standard will not deal with the requirements of supervising the kashrut of the product, but with its ingredients and the manner in which it is prepared. Fraud regarding kashrut certification will be grounds for action against the advertised business, and will result in severe penalties like any consumer fraud.

Kashrut of Imports

As in the case of local kosher food, the restrictions on the import of non-kosher food to Israel, where it exists, will be removed, and in place of the obligation to approve all food imported to Israel as kosher by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, an obligation will be imposed to report on its compliance with the Rabbinate’s kashrut standard. If the product turns out not to be kosher, the financial responsibility will be borne by the importer and not by the manufacturer abroad, which will ensure the importer’s concern to buy from reliably kosher suppliers, whose products have been approved by the local rabbinates abroad.

Kashrut and Cruelty to Animals

One of the complaints heard in the State of Israel against the kashrut systems is related to alleged or not-alleged cruelty stemming from the conditions in which animals are slaughtered, brought to slaughter, or even raised for slaughter, and so forth. Changing the government’s supervision of kashrut into a standard opens the way for organizations and courts that grant kashrut supervision to toughen their animal welfare requirements and demand that their customers meet these requirements in order to receive their certification.

This will be good both for the animals and for Jewish law, which views animal cruelty as a grave and cruel sin. In such a situation, the public’s demand to improve the treatment of animals will help create a natural and desirable consensus on the part of the public to consume kosher food. A natural connection, because a large part of kashrut requirements in the first place, such as the prohibition of the “treifah,” deal indirectly with the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout their lives, and the conditions of modern industrial growth demand further stringencies.[8]

Registration and Marriage for Interested Parties

With the cancellation of the marriage registry,[9] the need to come into contact with the Chief Rabbinate and local rabbinates regarding marriage will cease. Those who are interested in the services of the rabbinate in this field will be able to continue to use its services and register for marriage. This registration will be useful in proving Jewish descent in cases where this may be required in the future for their offspring.

Supervision of Mohels and the Circumcision Standard

The profession of circumcision, because it is essentially related to surgery and health risks, justifies government licensing, but in this area the Chief Rabbinate intervenes much less than is appropriate. Zehut will act to strengthen supervision of mohels, and to prohibit circumcisions without a license.

The training of mohels in Israel is also plagued with corruption and often requires deception in order to attain accreditation. Zehut will act to regulate this ungoverned area for the benefit of the public.

In the wake of this unfortunate situation, we note the phenomenon of “mohel doctors” who market themselves to the public as performers-of-circumcision-with-a-qualified-medical-staff (which they have as physicians).[10] Often, these circumcisions do not meet the basic halakhic requirements for the observance of circumcision, a mitzvah which has always unified the majority of the Jewish public. Zehut views this situation severely, because it is a serious deception of a large part of the public.

In the area of ​​circumcision, the Chief Rabbinate will also be able to establish a standard, and anyone who markets himself as a mohel will have to indicate whether he is in compliance or not, as Zehut has proposed in the areas of ​​kashrut and marriage.


Towards a State Sabbatical

The mitzvah of the Sabbatical Year is one of the elements of the national life of the Jewish people in its land according to Judaism, and it is difficult to overestimate its value in Jewish eyes. The Torah itself defines it as the foundation of the covenant with the People of Israel in its land, and its violation as an act leading to exile and destruction.

For the past hundred years, this mitzvah has been “observed,” in the main, by circumventing the halachic rulings in a way that is intended to facilitate a normal life, while technically avoiding an explicit violation of the laws of the Sabbatical Year.

It is important to note that the mitzvah of the Sabbatical year cannot be implemented in a real way, even in a private manner, without preparation on a national scale. Instead of focusing on the Heter Mechira, which bypasses the Sabbatical Year, we must begin examining state models that will help fulfill this mitzvah nationally, perhaps even extending it beyond its original agricultural boundaries. The mitzvah of the Sabbatical Year has the power to become the basis of a cultural renaissance on a comprehensive national scale.

The Rabbinate’s ordination system

The area of ordination as now practiced by the Chief Rabbinate will remain in its hands, since it is an accepted standard, recognized and in demand by the public. Many thousands take the rabbinic ordination exams every year. In addition, this ordination will continue to serve as the anchor for changing the structure of the local rabbinates proposed in the next chapter.


[1] “I testify to Heaven and Earth, that Rabbi Kook assembled the Chief Rabbinate Council from twenty-three rabbis, so that this would be the basis for a small Sanhedrin.” Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon, in the book “Renewing the Sanhedrin in Our Time”, p.57.

[2] For example, the lack of authority in Jewish law beyond matters of marriage and divorce.

[3] For example, the regulations of the Chief Rabbinate opposed to levirate marriage and chalitza, unlike the custom of the Sephardim, the definition of non-glatt meat as kosher, unlike the Sephardic custom, the extension of the enactment of Rabbenu Gershom regarding marrying two women over the entire population, unlike the custom of all Sephardic communities.

[4] For example, regarding the Temple Mount, the Chief Rabbinate has ruled for fifty years that Jews are forbidden to enter it, contrary to the opinion of many of the rabbinic authorities of this generation. In addition, it refrains from taking a strong active position, such as requiring Temple Mount to be included in the list of places holy to Judaism, despite this being within its purview.

[5] We write that this is theoretically so, since in practice it depends entirely on the relative authority of the Chief Rabbis. When the rulings of the Chief Rabbis are insufficient to prevent a coalition crisis with various factions, following the objections of their rabbis, the matter is often settled directly with these rabbis.

[6] See below.

[7] Rabbinic judging, neighborhood rabbinics, municipal rabbinics, rabbinic judging for conversion, supervision of kashrut, kosher slaughter, circumcision, ritual writing, and more.

[8] The above does not negate direct governmental legislation prohibiting animal cruelty from the non-halachic-kashrut angle. There is certainly room for this.

[9] See below in the chapter on canceling marriage registration.

[10] The gap in the fee between a circumcision by a surgeon and circumcision by an expert mohel is enormous and usually stands at over 1,000 shekels.

Changing the Structure of Local Rabbinates

Independent Rabbinic Courts Instead of Funded Rabbinates

A local rabbinate has always existed among the Jewish people. The rabbis of Israel have led the Jewish communities throughout the ages, and have given their lives figuratively, and often literally,  for the physical and spiritual well-being of their communities. It is thanks to the continuous chain of the rabbis from the days of Moses until today that the People of Israel has survived what it has and has reached this day.

Today’s reality, unfortunately, is very different from the idyllic historical picture just described. The institution of the local rabbinate has deteriorated through a great many stages until it has reached the situation we find today, and this justifies fundamental changes in its structure.

Rabbinic Courts First

The concept of a local rabbi is not a root concept in Judaism at all. The classic appointed rabbi that Judaism had known over the past two thousand years, with the exception of the recent past, was almost always, without exception, the head of the local rabbinic court, and all the other duties that we generally identify as functions and responsibilities of the rabbinate accreted around his main role as rabbinic court judge.

That tradition is reversed in the State of Israel today, as a result of a creeping process in the two hundred and fifty years since the Emancipation, during which the community courts lost their authority. Many rabbis are not qualified at all to serve as rabbinic judges, and the very concepts of rabbinic court law and rabbinic law have been separated – to the extent that there are actually rabbis who are not rabbinic judges and rabbinic judges who are not rabbis. In addition, the failure to recognize Jewish law in the State of Israel has led to the fact that the institution of rabbinic judges has no significance other than in the unfortunate cases of divorce.

Change in the structure of the local rabbinate should begin with this fundamental point: that the anchor of the proposed reform is the recognition and restoration of Jewish law (detailed elsewhere in this chapter). The rabbinic courts that will be established in the framework of this concept will replace the existing local rabbinates.

Financing Rabbinic Courts from Voluntary Tax

As recommended with regard to culture, the rabbinate should also be financed solely by local voluntary taxes, dependent upon the public’s willingness to fund this institution and its services. In a reality where the public will not be obliged to pay for theater and soccer, neither will it be compelled to pay for the position of city rabbi.

Electing a City Rabbi

The rabbi of the city will be elected by the public who choose to pay the voluntary rabbinic taxes, thereby expressing their desire to take an active part in the religious Jewish life of the city. The city rabbi will be elected from a list of candidates consisting  of the neighborhood rabbis. He will be elected by the general public,[1] according to Jewish law, and as was customary in the past. Only rabbis ordained by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel will be able to serve in this capacity.

The city rabbi will be a member of the state Hebrew court in his city. Serving together with the neighborhood rabbis, this will constitute the entire court.

Neighborhood Rabbis

The neighborhood rabbis will be elected by the residents of the neighborhoods themselves from those candidates who present themselves. Their salaries will be paid only from the voluntary taxes collected in their neighborhood. Division of neighborhoods for the purpose of these elections will be determined by the municipality, similar to the division of neighborhoods presented in the community section of the platform. Here too, only rabbis who are ordained by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel may serve in this capacity.

Religious Services in the City

The constituted rabbinic court will be allowed to provide religious services and to organize Jewish life in the city, but without guaranteed exclusivity in the field of kashrut or the performing of marriages.

Clearly municipal subjects, such as an eruv, rules for Sabbath observance by municipal bodies, the Sabbatical Year, and so forth, will be entrusted to the rabbinic court by the municipality.

In a situation where the court is elected by the public, financed by the public, and represents the public in a city that is prepared to finance it, it is reasonable to assume that the public will also choose to use the services of the court in the areas of kashrut and marriage.

Financing of Yeshivas and the Humanities

Equality, recognition of reality, striving for independence

The Vision

One of the hottest topics in the Israeli public discourse in the last thirty years is funding for yeshivas. Zehut’s approach to this complex subject is derived from its general approach of distancing the state from cultural intervention, while recognizing the reality on the ground and placing the “world of Torah” and the “world of the humanities” on an equal footing.

Zehut has a vision of an independent world of Torah and humanities that is not reliant on any form of government charity, financial or spiritual. Instead, it will be funded by the private and communal capital received from Torah students and those who learn with them and from those who wish to contribute to the advancement of the goals embodied in the institutions of study and research.

When the world of humanities and Torah in Israel is released from the nursery of public funding, both Torah and humanities will benefit; most importantly, the Israeli public will benefit from the fruits of a free, vibrant and independent national culture, a culture that is connected to it and its needs.

The Damage of Funding

Government funding for Torah institutions and institutions of higher education in the field of humanities causes very deep damage. The damage does not stem from any ill intent on the part of the people who receive this funding, but from the nature of the world, from the insidious and unavoidable influence of government funding – even if it seems convenient for all parties involved.

Funding given to yeshivas requires a whole army of inspectors and officials to enforce eligibility criteria. Moreover, these criteria, however logical, serve as a brake on the ability of yeshiva students to be financially independent and restricts them to a path on which they remain dependent on government funding forever.

Even more serious is the phenomenon of “anti-elitism” developed by institutions that receive funding on a per student basis. The yeshiva has always been a tough elitist institution, and yeshiva students were a symbol of self-sacrifice and endless devotion. All this has disappeared in Israel, largely under the degenerate influence of funding. When the implication of dismissing a student is not an increase in the available budget, but a decrease in funding, it is no wonder that the yeshivas hold on with all their might to any student who will agree to their sponsorship.

And all this is dwarfed by the lack of spiritual independence that this funding dictates. When the funding weapon is held by the state, which waves it frequently, yeshiva heads align themselves with what can be said in the framework of the ability to continue receiving funding. Thus, paradoxically but surely, there is no reason to finance such a Torah, which is no longer genuine, but dependent upon the whims of the client.

The same is true of the humanities, but there the tradition of academic freedom allows for somewhat freer expression, and to some extent, the damage tends to center on the more pragmatic contexts. The entirely unjustified expansion of the faculties of the humanities is a direct result of the willingness to finance them proportionally to the number of students who choose to study in any particular program.

When Hegel and Fichte learned humanity subjects in German universities, no one thought they should be funded, even after they began teaching there as professors. Contrary to what is generally accepted today, the glory period of the nineteenth century was accompanied by very little public funding. Today, however, every humanities student receives generous government subsidies, and people who cannot contribute much in these elitist and abstract areas are encouraged by universities and colleges to study for degrees with no financial future.

The predictable result is that in the entire Western world, and in Israel as well, there is a huge number of unemployed academics who are graduates of the humanities faculties, who need to provide for their livelihood and employment through government programs.

The Analogy Between Yeshivas and the Humanities

My situation does not allow me to complain about the funds given to Torah scholars, because it appears that I myself receive from the public coffers more than yeshiva students do for the same Torah.”

Professor Yehuda Liebes, a senior researcher in Jewish studies

The unilateral approach to funding the world of Torah is fundamentally wrong. There is no difference between funding given to Torah institutions and funding given to academic institutions in the humanities. In both cases, it is public funding for educational institutions dealing with subjects that do not have direct economic benefit, but they represent the pursuit of a spiritual occupation that justifies (or does not justify) public funding – for the purpose of nurturing and preserving such study.

Contrary to a position commonly held  in Israel, there is nothing more obvious about funding the Chair of Egyptology at the Hebrew University than funding the Mir Yeshiva.

However, things do not stop there, and the comparison between funding yeshivas and financing the humanities has a deeper connection. Although this did not have to be the case, it is a sad fact that the academic institutions of the humanities do not represent in any country the prevailing moods in general society. In the United States, for example, over 90% of students in departments of humanities consistently support the Democratic Party. It is sufficient to recall the identity of the last elected president (in 2008 and 2012) in order to be convinced that this is a strange phenomenon. This situation exists in Israel as well, and even more so. The historical roots of Israeli humanities in the radical left of Brit Shalom, which united the fathers of Israeli humanities research, is well known.

It is also known that the separation of the academic from the people occurs less in the world of exact sciences, in which the range of opinions better represents the accepted range of opinions in society. This leads to the thought that public funding for the institutions of the humanities is not self-evident, and in any case should be balanced by parallel funding.

Zehut maintains that government funding of the humanities in Israel justifies the funding of yeshivas, and vice versa. As long as yeshivas receive government funding, it is reasonable for institutions of the humanities to accept it, and vice versa, since these institutions express authentic values ​​that are clashing within Israeli society, and there is no justice in strengthening one of the parties at the expense of the other.

The Present Situation and the Future

Today there are hundreds of yeshivas in the State of Israel and hundreds of academic institutions dealing with the humanities that enjoy direct and indirect government funding. Even if Zehut does not like it, it is an existing social fact with deep historical roots, and this reality can not be changed in a moment. In any case, Zehut opposes a unilateral cut against either one of the two branches of the educational institutions supported by the state in Israel.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the desired direction is a gradual reduction in government support. As dependency is reduced, the accompanying restrictions will also diminish. This will open the way to humanities research and Torah study – independent, respectable, more rooted and authentic, for the benefit of all of us.



[1] This in and of itself is enough to bring about a real revolution in the institution of the local rabbinate. Today, the mechanism for appointing rabbis in cities is complicated, convoluted, and implicated in direct political manipulations by the religious parties, to the point that it is reduced to a business deal, preventing the selection of suitable candidates and harming candidates identified with political parties and factions.

Termination of Marriage Registration

Marriage as pre-existing the foundation of the state

Marriage is not owned by the state. Marriage is a fundamental pillar of human society in all its stages and manifestations. Marriage was in the world before there was Judaism in the world, and even before there were countries in the world. The registration of marriage is a historical innovation, and it is not at all a given. People married before the state took responsibility for registering their marriage, and people would continue to marry even if the state stopped its registration.

Opposition to the regulation and definition of marriage by the state is morally justified. It is not the state that should determine from above what marriage is, but rather, the society and community to which the person belongs. The real and penetrating debate over the definition of the family unit and the basic values ​​of society as a whole is an argument that must be taken away from the state and placed in the hands of the public.

The Situation Today

Today, the State of Israel records the marriage of its citizens, classifying them at the Interior Ministry and on identity cards as single, married, divorced or widowed. Marriage registration is based on marriage in the State of Israel, which by law is under the authority of representatives of the various religions; also registered are marriages performed in other countries that the Ministry of the Interior accepts as marriages also in Israel.

We are now dealing with a status quo and legacy in which the state undertook to place Jewish marriage in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate, but left an opening for actual civil marriage by “importing” the status of marriage from other countries. The government regulation reinforces a tradition of interference by modern states in the life of the individual, and the assumption that states can define in law the life-fundamentals of their citizens.

The boomerang of coercion

Since the early years of the state, this dichotomy has caused many problems. The necessity of marrying according to the law of Moses and Israel – coupled with the situation of those who were forbidden to marry – has aroused great resentment against the rabbinate. For its part, the rabbinate has tried to reduce the phenomenon of marriage disqualifications to a minimum, even at the price of extreme flexibility on halachic criteria, to the point that the very validity of the process has come into question.[1]

The influx of non-Jewish immigrants who have arrived in recent decades has created a reality in which some citizens of the State of Israel are not allowed to marry at all, to the point of absurd situations.

First and foremost, there is a stubborn and wide-ranging struggle to have the state recognize same-sex marriage – a struggle that, in principle, has already been decided. Under certain conditions, the state is already recording men and women married to someone of their own gender as married. 

The desire of those who sought to anchor marriage according to the religion of Moses and Israel as the recognized marriage in the State of Israel was to protect the Jewish identity of the state and to protect the sanctity of the Jewish people, but what was achieved was the exact opposite. Official recognition by the State of Israel of same-sex marriage is the absolute opposite of a Jewish state identity. In fact, the mere recognition of non-halachic civil marriages as recognized state marriages is already a material violation of the Jewish identity of the state, and the fact that it is forbidden to marry in a civil marriage in the state of Israel does not change the fact that these marriages are recognized.

Termination of registration

The Jewish identity of the state will be much less affected, while the freedom of its citizens will increase much more, if the very registration of marriage by the state ceases altogether. Marriage itself is not a possession of the state to grant or take and recognition of a marriage by the state should not increase or decrease its value, which is defined by the society in which it exists. The state has no right to define for its citizens whether they are married or not. That is not its business.

So how does one get married?

The state does not marry people. People get married. Both today and in the past. Nothing will change in this area other than the legal aspect. People who decide to get married will marry as they wish, in the type of ceremony they choose and in a way that suits them.

Just as an absolute majority of the married population in Israel marries in a traditional Jewish wedding, it will continue that way, and will grow and become more natural and truthful in the absence of coercion. However, other wedding options will be available, as the couple sees fit.

When state recognition of marriage is removed, the flames of the public debate will also subside. Even people who wholeheartedly oppose same-sex marriage will not claim that it is their right to prevent people from living together as they please and to conduct rituals as they see fit. On the other hand, even those who advocate same-sex marriage will not require recognition of their status, when this recognition will be irrelevant.

Marriage by the Rabbinate and the Chuppah Standard

The local rabbinates, in the form of the rabbinical courts, will be able to continue to offer to perform chuppah-marriages for the public, but without the monopoly they now hold. Anyone who wishes will be able to legally perform chuppah-marriages and “compete” with those offered by the local rabbinates. However, the marketing of chuppah-marriages will be regulated according to the standards detailed below, in order to prevent the public from being defrauded.

Marketing Chuppah-Marriages and the Chuppah Standard

The meaning of the term “chuppah” in the State of Israel is not liquid and abstract, but rather clear and defined: “Chuppah” with no modifier is that which is done according to Jewish law as accepted by the People of Israel for generations. In other words, an “Orthodox wedding.” However, this concept, like many legal, halachic and professional legal concepts, is not necessarily self-evident to the public.[2] In order to prevent fraud and abuse of the new freedom, the Chief Rabbinate will define a halachic standard of chuppah. This standard will define what is required of the person performing the chuppah-marriage, so that his chuppah will meet the criteria of chuppah according to accepted Jewish law. This standard shall not be compulsory and shall not constitute a condition for the performance of the chuppah. The standard will constitute a mandatory condition in marketing. In other words, anyone who publishes his services as a chuppah officiant for the public will be required to make it clear and accessible in his publications whether the chuppah he is marketing meets the halachic standard of the rabbinate or not.

False advertising regarding compliance with the standard will be grounds for prosecution, fines and sanctions as in any case of standard fraud. This is not a license to perform chuppah-marriages, but rather a standard that those performing chuppah-marriage must address. In addition, Zehut believes that there will be no need for active enforcement of the standard, but rather that the alertness of the public which will complain in cases of deviation is sufficient.

Legal implications - according to the agreement to be signed

The legal implications of a wedding will depend on the legal agreement signed by the marrying couple, and this agreement will be the interface of their marriage with the state, if and when it needs to intervene.

The status of marriage shall be the status of a contract between two parties, depending on the contract signed by the signatories in all respects, and as is the case in any contract. Violation of the contract will constitute grounds for prosecution in court, and the court will rule according to the contract.

Implications for Legislation

Canceling the registration of marriages will have a significant impact on a long list of laws that relate to the individual status of the citizen. All these laws will be modified accordingly, so that the question of registration of marriage will become irrelevant to them.[3]

The Sanctity of Marriage in Judaism and the Fear of the Division of the Jewish People

Marriage according to the law of Moses and Israel is the foundation of holiness in Judaism, and the attitude towards it is accordingly one of great respect. The loose standards of loyalty and stability of the family unit accepted today in many countries have never been perceived as reasonable in Judaism; the Jewish family unit has always been its banner of stability, commitment and holiness.

Against the expropriation of (partial) control by the Chief Rabbinate regarding marriage in Israel, an argument is often raised that this will split the Jewish people due to the possibility of improper marriage. The resulting large number of disqualified Jews would make it impossible for observant Jews to marry Jews whose lineage is not fully traceable.

This concern stems from a genuine concern for the integrity of Israel, which Zehut identifies with and is part of. However, this fear is largely unfounded. In today’s reality, there is a de- facto need for checking relationship status in all marriages. This need is not an arbitrary restriction found in Judaism, but is rather a fundamental part of the marriage process in Israel for generations, precisely to prevent these problems. Similarly, marriage that is not done according to chuppah and kiddushin does not cause the children to be disqualified from marriage unless the parent married a non-Jew.[4]

Zehut’s proposal will lead primarily to a simple return to the classic reality of marriage among the People of Israel. The majority that will apparently choose marriage according to Jewish law will be required by the rabbinic court that arranges the chuppah or the chuppah that is performed according to the standard, to present the marriage contracts of the parents, and to bring witnesses as to their unmarried status, as is customary. In the absence of the parents’ marriage contracts, a process of clarifying Jewishness will take place, which upon successful conclusion will not be a barrier to performing the marriage.

On the other hand, a Jew who chooses to marry another Jew without a wedding ceremony will not cause his children to be illegitimate at all, but will simply cause them to have to prove their Jewishness when they choose to marry according to Jewish law. This the case today with those who have married civilly and their children, particularly in the case of the great majority of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

What do we Gain?

Freedom. The main benefit for citizens in Israel is that the state ceases to be a party to the question of what is a family. This question, which is the foundation of society as a whole, and specifically underlies Judaism, will be decided by Israeli society, in particular by the Jews themselves, without the possibility of using the state as a coercive tool in either direction.

Similarly, it should be noted with regret that performance of chuppah-marriages, like any monopolistic system, is often tainted by corruption and bureaucratic laziness, without intending to generalize. This sad phenomenon is one of the deepest causes of antagonism and hatred toward Judaism, and especially toward institutionalized Judaism. All this, instead of marriage according to the religion of Moses and Israel becoming a natural and joyful anchor for the Jewish identity of the vast majority of the Jewish public.

In marriage, as in other areas, when the public has freedom to choose, the public will choose its Jewish identity and will continue to adhere to it by choice and love.


[1] The famous affair of the mamzers in the 1970s shook the foundation of the position of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel – a shock from which it has never recovered.

[2] Just as it is not obvious to the public what “red wine” meets the standard and what “electric kettle” meets the safety standard.

[3] In the flat tax method proposed by Zehut, there will be no consequences for canceling marriage registration, since the tax structure will not harm families in advance, and they will have no need for credit points.

[4] More specifically, marriage with non-Jewish women, since the child’s status as Jew depends entirely on the Jewish status of the mother.

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