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Religious Tolerance logo

Religious intolerance in Israel

Part 1: Overview.
Religion/state separation.

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This is an enormously complex issue, which we have not fully researched at this time. However, there appears to be several areas of religious friction and intolerance in the country, including the following:

bulletAlthough most Jews are secular, Orthodox Judaism has considerable authority to regulate life in Israel through their control over marriages, burials, recognition of whether an individual is Jewish, issuance of Kosher certificates to restaurants, and other items. This generates friction among Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews, as well as secularists.
bulletThe state of Israel is in a continuous state of war with some of its predominately Muslim neighbors. This escalates Jewish - Muslim friction enormously.
bulletIsrael is essentially in a state of war with the Muslim population of lands that it captured in previous wars.
bulletFriction exists over the activity of some Christian groups to convert Jews and Muslims to conservative Christianity.

The lack of separation between religion and state in Israel:

Their Declaration of Independence guarantees religious freedom:

"The State of Israel will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants regardless of religion, race or gender; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."

Guarantees of equality and freedom for persons of all sexual orientations and sexual identities are not included in the Declaration.

Israel is a signatory to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantee freedom of religious belief, a person's right to adopt and change their religion without coercion or discrimination, and to manifest their religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.

However, these principles have not been fully implemented, at least to the satisfaction of many non-Orthodox Jews and secularists. There is no wall of separation between religion and state in Israel as there is in the U.S., and to a limited degree in Canada. The Orthodox branch of Judaism is the only recognized form of Judaism in the country. They hold considerable power, while more liberal Jewish traditions (Reform and Conservative) are relatively powerless.

Points of conflicts extend to many areas of life, "including:

bulletdrafting yeshiva students,
bulletequal funding for secular schools and programs,
bulletallowing public transportation...
bulletopening food and entertainment establishments on Shabbat....
bulletseating of Reform and Conservative Movement representatives on religious councils,
bulletproviding the opportunity for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel (Western Wall),
bulletrecognizing conversions performed by the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism." 1
bulletstate funding for non-Orthodox synagogues.

Various recent polls have indicated that:

bullet67.9% of Israeli adults feel that the religious political parties have too much power.
bullet63% favor giving Reform and Conservative Judaism equal legal status to that possessed by the Orthodox tradition.
bullet63% favored allowing couples to choose Reform and Conservative Jewish marriage ceremonies; only Orthodox services are currently recognized.
bullet64% supported operating public transportation on the weekly Sabbath, which runs from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.
bullet78% favor opening shopping malls outside city centers on the Sabbath.
bullet45% "either prefer or is open to receiving religious life-cycle services from Reform" or Conservative authorities. 1

The lack of religious equality for Conservative and Reform Jews in Israel should be considered in context. Many surrounding Arab nations have infinitely more repressive laws concerning religious conversion:

bulletCitizens of Iran have been sentenced to death because they voluntarily decided to convert from Islam to the Baha'i Faith.
bulletAn Egyptian court ordered a couple to divorce because one spouse wrote a book calling for reform within Islam and was thus deemed by the authorities to have become a non-Muslim. In many predominately Muslim countries, do not allow a Muslim woman to be married to a non-Muslim man.
bulletA man in Pakistan has been sentenced to death for recommending that a neighbor read a book by Salman Rushdie called "The Satanic Verses" (1988).

Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Religion and State in Israel: Background article," Israel Religious Action Center, at: http://www.irac.org/article_e.asp?artid=14

Copyright © 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-12
Latest update: 2009-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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