Israeli Gov't Due to Debate Bill Giving Primacy to Jewish Religious Law

Law proposed by Nissan Slomiansky would require courts to defer to religious law in cases with no clear 'secular' precedent.

AP

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is scheduled to debate on Sunday a bill that would require judges, in cases where neither Israeli statutes nor court precedents offer a clear ruling, to refer to the principles of Jewish religious law before consulting alternative legal sources.

Discussion of the bill, proposed by MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) has been put off a number of times.

MK Nissan Slomiansky at the Knesset, 2014.
Michal Fattal

In late December, Slomiansky removed the bill from the ministerial committee’s agenda just before it was to be discussed, to try to word it in a way that would be acceptable to the centrists Kulanu party.

During coalition negotiations after the March 2015 election, Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon strongly opposed inclusion of any legislation that eroded the authority of the Supreme Court in coalition agreements and said his party would not lend a hand to passing such bills.

It is still unclear whether Slomiansky will present the bill in its original form and promise to change the wording after its preliminary Knesset reading, or whether he will present a milder version on Sunday. Either way, it is believed that the bill’s formulation will be changed to keep criticism of it at bay.

Slomiansky recently told Haaretz that his party colleague, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, was “very much in favor” of the bill. Shaked’s office said she would give her opinion when the committee discussed the bill.

The Foundations of Law statue, from 1980, states: “Where a court, faced with a legal question requiring decision, finds no answer to it in statute law or case law or by analogy, it shall decide it in light of the principles of freedom, justice, equity and peace of Israel’s heritage.”

Slomiansky’s bill would require judges to refer to Jewish law, including the Talmud and the Mishna, before consulting alternative legal sources such as rulings from foreign countries.

A milder version of the bill is expected to allow judges to prefer inference from other sources over Jewish law, but to do so only when there is a “clear inference.”