Former Chief Justice to Examine Whether Israel Is Ready for Separation of Church and State

Miriam Naor presided over several major cases, and among her rulings is the memorable decision to keep businesses in Tel Aviv open on Shabbat

Former chief justice Miriam Naor.
Olivier Fitoussi

The former president of the Israeli Supreme Court is slated to head a new project that will examine whether the separation of church and state is feasible and advisable in the country.

Miriam Naor, who completed an almost-three-year term as chief justice last October, will be overseeing this endeavor under the auspices of the Jewish People Policy Institute, an independent think-tank based in Jerusalem.

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In a statement, the institute said that the project led by Naor will “examine what the State of Israel should do to enable every Jew in the world to feel at home in Israel, while taking into account the religious beliefs of each and every one of them.” It will also address the extent to which the state should be engaged in regulating the religious life of its citizens.

The institute said it had invited Naor to head the project because of the legal complexities of the issue. She will also be joining the board of directors of the institute and its executive committee, which serves as an advisory council. In its statement, the institute noted this was the first board Naor had agreed to join since her retirement from the Supreme Court.

During her tenure as chief justice, Naor presided over several important cases involving issues of religion and state. In one of her final decisions, she ruled that businesses in Tel Aviv should be allowed to stay open on Shabbat. In the decision, she wrote: “Alongside protecting Shabbat’s unique character, we must allow every individual to mold his Shabbat in his own way, according to his own beliefs, and to fill it with content that he deems appropriate.”

She also presided over the initial hearing in a petition submitted by the non-Orthodox movements against the government for backing out of its commitment to provide them with full recognition at the Western Wall. That case is still pending.

Many of the reports and recommendations published by JPPI, co-chaired by former U.S. ambassadors Stuart Eizenstadt and Dennis Ross, are presented at Israeli cabinet meetings. Its board of governors comprises Jewish dignitaries from Israel and aboard.