Knesset Passes Law Urging Judges to Consult Jewish Religious Law

The Knesset passed on Tuesday, May 1, a law that urges, but does not obligate, judges to rule in light of the principles of Jewish religious law if confronted with an issue on which there is no relevant legislation or judicial precedents. The controversial law passed its final parliamentary vote with 39 Knesset members in favor and 32 opposed.

MK Nissan Slomiansky and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked

MK Nissan Slomiansky and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Photo: Knesset)

The law is intended to expand the influence of Jewish law on judicial decisions. The law also advises judges to consult “the principles of Jewish heritage,” a vaguer term.

The law which was approved by the Knesset is significantly softer than that originally sponsored by the far-right settler MK Nissan Slomiansky (HaBayit HaYehudi – Jewish Home). Slomiansky’s original bill would have mandated the establishment of an academic institute charged with translating Jewish law into modern terminology and thereby make it more accessible to judges and easier for them to use. However, this provision ran into significant opposition in the Knesset, so the legislators decided to make do with adding Jewish law as one possible source on which judges can rely in interpreting legislation.

“This is one small step for Slomiansky and one giant step for [far right Justice Minister Ayelet] Shaked on the way to an undemocratic state governed by Jewish religious law”, said Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List). “This bill is part of a creeping, dangerous move. This government has proposed a series of bills the collective goal of which is to change the foundations of the system, to distance the system as much as possible from progressive views of democracy and make it more nationalist, conservative and religious.”