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TITLE: Covenant on Religion and State
Author: Professor Alex Lubotzky

A New Covenant on Religion and State

  1. Introduction

1.1. The state of Israel is celebrating its jubilee this year. The state

has made enormous achievements in all areas of life: in defending our

existence and guarding our security, in absorbing new immigrants, in

building the infrastructure for economic, industrial, academic and

scientific progress.

It is clear that Israel's founders and those who guided the state through its first fifty years have left many additional challenges to the later generations. These challenges are mainly social in nature and focus on the human quality of life in the coming century. The increasing tensions between religious and secular Jews constitute a

serious threat to our ability to establish a common framework for life,

based on pluralism and respect.

Among wide and numerous circles, there is a growing realization that a new path must be charted in regard to the relationship between religion and state. This new path would aim to fulfill Israel's role as a Jewish and democratic state, while taking into consideration Israel's special conditions and circumstances: as the state of the Jewish people, as a Jewish and democratic state with a considerable non-Jewish minority population, as a state whose Jewish citizens are religious, traditional and secular and as a state with a feeling of responsibility and significance for the Jewish people in the Diaspora.

1.2. The "status quo" represents a constant situation of rejection and

fails to provide a solution for the various conflicts that arise on a

dynamic basis. Dissatisfaction with the principle of the "status quo" is

the main common denominator shared by a broad public from all camps. On one side, there is the feeling that the democratic and pluralistic character of Israeli society is being increasingly eroded as a result of political deals and pressures. On the other side, the prevailing view is that the Jewish character of Israel is being gradually and continually weakened, and that Jewish culture could lose its central place in Israeli society.

    1. The fact that a large number of new immigrants are not considered Jews according to Jewish law (halacha), lends a special urgency to finding solutions.
    2. We have therefore come together to present before the Israeli public a new covenant for relations between the religious and secular, based on strengthening Jewish identity through education rather than coercive legislation.

We are aware of the pressing need to find practical solutions in many areas of life, while strengthening the Zionist, Jewish and democratic character of the state, and while establishing agreed upon ways of solving problems between different segments of Israeli society.

It should be emphasized that this covenant does not constitute ideological agreement between the two sides. The compromises proposed in this covenant do not provide permission for transgressing the words of the Torah, on one hand, nor do they indicate an agreement to limits on individual freedom for

religious reasons, on the other hand.

  1. Education and Culture
  2. 2.1. The educational system will engage in a real effort to heighten the consciousness of Jewish and democratic culture while ensuring a

    well-defined and obligatory common denominator in Jewish and democratic studies throughout the entire state-funded educational system.

    2.2 The educational system will require the study of Jewish tradition, including the Torah and Oral Law as part of the curriculum in all educational streams. A special program of studies on the subject of democracy and human rights will likewise be taught in all educational streams.

    2.3. A governmental authority will be established to promote Jewish

    education and culture. Its goal will be to work in all of the educational

    systems in the state of Israel.

    The governmental authority will bring together educators and cultural

    figures from the various sectors in order to encourage expressions of

    Jewish culture, in its various forms, in the cultural and social life of

    Israel. The authority will be attached to the institution of the President of the state in order to stress its national, apolitical and independent status.

    2.4 The authority will encourage the development of Jewish creative work and culture in the fields of literature, theater, film, etc.

    2.5. In an effort to decrease the polarization in the society, the

    educational system will view as a central goal the encouragement of

    initiatives to bring the religious and secular schools closer together, via on-going and regular educational activities, classes and meetings on various topics.

    2.6. The authority will also direct its efforts at issues pertaining to the Jewish people in the Diaspora. The authority will commit itself to

    developing and strengthening the connection between the state and all segments of world Jewry. Special emphasis will be placed on joint

    initiatives bringing together the young generation in Israel and Jewish

    Diaspora youth, as well as the struggle against assimilation.

    2.7. A council for higher Torah education will be established that will allocate the budgets for yeshivot and Torah education institutions in the same way as other institutions of higher education in Israel are budgeted.

  3. Marital Status

3.1. Israel, as a modern state, must accord each of its citizens the basic right of establishing a home and family, which is one of the most important Jewish values.

3.2. Especially in light of the situation described in section 1.3 above, we must bridge between fundamental civil rights and the normative system of Jewish tradition in order to provide a prompt solution for couples who have been unable to get married under the institutions which exist today.

It is therefore proposed to establish a system parallel to the existing one for the purpose of registering "couplehood". This system would allow a couple to register and be recognized as a couple and family. After registering in this path, the approval of the family court would be required to break off the "couplehood".

    1. Whoever chooses to establish a family unit via one of the paths would be required to use the same path to break apart the family unit when necessary.

3.4. The Interior Ministry will establish a special mechanism for

coordination and oversight between the two paths and for addressing special


4. The Sabbath and Holidays

4.1. From a Jewish standpoint, which recognizes the central importance of the Sabbath day as a day of rest and abstention from work, and from a cultural and social standpoint, which recognizes the importance of a common day of rest for the whole family and society, the Sabbath day will be observed as the general day of rest in Israel.

4.2. A person's right to work will not be harmed as a result of demands for work on the Sabbath or holidays when these demands are inconsistent with his faith.

The work being done in special institutes aimed at finding solutions for Sabbath observance will be encouraged.

4.3. Cultural, entertainment and vacation activities will be permitted on the Sabbath, including recreational and sport facilities, vacation sites, etc., while taking into consideration the wishes of the local residents.

4.4. All other commercial, business and manufacturing activities will be shut down during the Sabbath day.

Work on the Sabbath will only take place, and only to the extent necessary, where it is essential for preserving life, security or health, for maintaining or running essential systems which operate continuously, or in order to provide basic services for the cultural and recreational activities mentioned above.

4.5. Modes of transportation serving the public will be permitted on the Sabbath in a framework limited by agreements set by the local councils according to the needs and character of the local population.

The various agreements related to public transportation will address the scope and type of vehicles to be used and will be based on the balanced interests of the general public.

5. Local Religious Services

5.1. The state of Israel will ensure the provision of local religious

services according to a "basket of religious services" to be anchored in

legislation following the recommendations of a special public committee.

5.2. In order to ensure the provision of services, religious departments will be set up on the municipal level (similar to the educational and other departments existing today in the local councils).

The religious departments will replace the religious councils now in

existence and will function as part of the system of local services

provided to citizens. The religious departments will ensure the supply of the various religious services defined in the "basket of religious services".

6. The Chief Rabbinate and Local Rabbinate

6.1. It is now time to give expression to the coming together of Jews from around the world and discontinue the system of double appointments of rabbis on the basis of ethnicity.

6.2. The activities of the Rabbinate will focus on the special challenges that have arisen in recent generations following the establishment of the state of Israel.

    1. The Chief Rabbinate will be united under the leadership of a single Chief Rabbi and rabbis from all ethnic groups will serve in the Chief Rabbinate Council.

6.4. A local authority will be able to elect one chief rabbi for the locality.

6.5. An elected candidate will serve for a defined period of time and will be eligible for re-election at the end of this period.

7. Burial

7.1. The implementation of the law providing for the "Right to Alternative Civil Burial (1996)" will be ensured. The law determines that any person is entitled to be buried in accordance with his/her beliefs.

7.2. Cemeteries in Israel will allocate sections for civil burial, in

accordance with public demand.

7.3. As provided for in the law, recognized agencies will be established to provide burial and funeral services in accordance with the wishes of the deceased.

7.4. The operation and maintenance of cemeteries will be the responsibility of the local authority in which the cemetery is located.

  1. Archeology

8.1. Activities promoting scientific and archeological research are of

special importance, while carefully protecting the dignity of the dead.

8.2. The Yahad council will appoint an organization comprised of

professionals and rabbinical authorities to make decisions on controversial


9. Conversion

9.1. Like any other state in the world, the state of Israel has the right

to determine who will be its citizens. On the other hand, giyyur

(conversion) is a concept in Jewish law (halacha).

9.2. The state of Israel should assist its citizens and residents who wish to convert, by defining procedures and arrangements for conversion which are standardized, accessible and efficient.

9.3. The principles expressed in the report of the Ne'eman Commission are to be implemented.

9.4. Systems will be set up to support the "spiritual absorption" of

converts in the various communities where they reside.

10. The Justice System and Rabbinical Courts

10.1. Recognizing the importance of the principles of justice, honesty, freedom and peace in the Jewish tradition, and seeking to internalize these principles in the justice system, the legal and legislative community will be encouraged to address itself to Hebrew law

10.2. Rabbinical courts will operate autonomously within the framework of the Justice Ministry, as do the civil courts.

10.3. Appointees to the rabbinical courts will be rabbinical scholars who are closely involved with everyday issues and firmly rooted in a wide range of concepts.

11. National Service Law

11.1. As part of the citizen's duty to the state and society, we view with great importance the enactment of legislation for national service, military and civilian

11.2. Recognizing Torah study as valuable for Israeli society, the defense establishment will permit Torah study to be combined with national service in various ways, including: hesder yeshivot, service during vacation times for full-time yeshiva students, and academies combining military service with the study of Jewish tradition for the secular public.

12. On-going Rapprochement - The Yahad Council

12.1. A public council, the Yahad Council, will be established to provide a regular framework for rapprochement between the different segments of the Jewish people. The council will aim to amicably settle general and local controversies in order to gradually build relations of mutual understanding and respect.

12.2. The signatories to this covenant commit themselves to continuing regular communication aimed at resolving controversies and narrowing gaps, and intend to draft proposed solutions for problems that arise in the future.

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