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2019 Annual Assessment

Two questions are at the heart of the JPPI project: What kind of balance is desirable, and possible, as a means of alleviating the tension between Israel as a “Jewish state” and Israel as a “democratic state”? And: How can this balance be translated into everyday life in Israel? The assumption underlying these questions is that Israel’s unique character and existential realities do not allow for the separation of religion and state. What we should be striving for, then, is their optimal coexistence. Other central premises are that Israel, mainly due to domestic political pressures, has yet to identify the optimal means of striking such a balance; and that it must and can meet the challenge more effectively.

Much has been written about the desired religion-state balance. Israeli civil-society organizations have drawn up various documents aimed at delineating what religion-state relations should look like (e.g., The Gavison-Medan Covenant (2004), the Kinneret Convention (2001), the Meimad-Lubotzky-Beilin Covenant (1999). There have been many Supreme Court rulings pertaining to this balance. JPPI has also addressed the subject from a number of angles. Nevertheless, the Institute decided to take the issue up again for several reasons, including its great importance, even more so at this time, to Israel-Diaspora relations, the exacerbation of social tensions emanating from confrontations over the issue, and the unique tools at JPPI’s disposal, which allow it to treat the topic with the seriousness it deserves (quality personnel, a deep knowledge base, experience, and a wide-ranging network of contacts in Israel and the Diaspora). Former Chief Justice Miriam Naor, for instance, dealt extensively with the issue while serving on the Supreme Court.

The project is addressing a number of central issues that reflect the tension between religion and state. These include:
A. Conversion
B. Marriage and divorce
C. Shabbat and the public sphere
D. Education
E. Military/national service
F. The state’s attitude toward the non-Orthodox streams (including the issue of an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel)

The major questions to be examined by the project are: Where should one draw the balancing line on each of these core issues? How should one anchor or regulate proposed solutions for achieving the desired balance (through legislation? administrative decisions? judicial review? some other way?)? Are there potential tradeoffs between these issues, and if so, what form might they take? To what degree, if any, should the state provide religious services to citizens? Should these services be privatized and if so, to what degree, and how? What is the best mechanism for handling these issues and implementing their solutions – in Israel, and between Israel and the Diaspora?

JPPI aims not merely to define the balance between religion and state, but also between the desirable and the possible in this context. Accordingly, it will take into account the constraints of Israeli public and political realities, and seek solutions that, rather than merely embodying inclinations or theoretical positions, actually have a chance of being realized.

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