“Some argue that the values of the Jewish state and the values of the democratic state cannot co-exist. I don’t believe this, and this has not been the position of the Supreme Court over the years,” said Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, in addressing a conference on Jewish and Democratic Law hosted by Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law, which was supported by the Zahava and Moshael J. Straus Family Foundation.
Sparking lively debate among a roster of Israel’s prestigious judges, legal policy shapers and some of the finest scholars from Israel and abroad, the conference probed whether the concepts of “Jewish” and “Democratic” are complementary or contradictory terms. Sessions were moderated by leading BIU legal experts, including Prof. Yedidia Stern, Vice President for Research at the Israel Democracy Institute; Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, founding director of BIU’s Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women; and conference organizer, Dr. Ori Aronson, who specializes in civil procedure and constitutional law.
Finding a Common Language
Former Supreme Court President, Prof. Aharon Barak noted, “As a judge I take the phrase Jewish and democratic as a given.” In his view, Israel’s values as a Jewish state are the same universal values shared by a democratic society, and which grew out of Jewish history and tradition.
Justice Dorit Beinisch, who also presided over Israel’s highest court, observed that “The debate did not begin with the establishment of the State. The Zionist Movement had already discussed it. What was decided was that the nation state would not be a halakhic state.” Beinisch opined: “We are a divided society that must find a common language. The argument cannot be decided only in the legal realm.”
Two Fundamental Concepts
Former Education Minister and Knesset member, Prof. Amnon Rubinstein said that the word “Jewish” gives the concept “Jewish and democratic” a social, national and cultural, rather than a halakhic meaning. “I read that the concept of Jewish and democratic was born from a compromise between Rabbi Yitzhak Levy, a representative of the National Religious Party, and me. That’s true technically. For me it was not a compromise. I think that the two fundamental concepts are already included in the Declaration of Independence.”
While Prof. Amal Jamal of Tel Aviv University (TAU) contended that there is an inherent contradiction in the expression “Jewish and democratic state,” Prof. Menachem Mautner, also of TAU, asserted that the definition of Israel as Jewish and democratic, along with the status of the Arab minority, should be incorporated into the definition of the State.
Replacing the “And” with a Hyphen
Stressing that Judaism and democracy are interlinked in the identity of the state, BIU President Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz suggested replacing the “and” with a hyphen, thus referring to Israel as a Jewish-democratic state.
The conference marked the opening of the Faculty’s new Center for Jewish and Democratic Law, which the Law Dean, Prof. Shahar Lifshitz, says, aims to provide a platform for dialogue in Israeli society and to develop new legal Jewish and democratic discourse.