Former Israeli Supreme Court President Miriam Naor Laid to Rest in Jerusalem

Naor was part of several landmark rulings, including overruling a law to keep asylum seekers in detention, and she authored the ruling abolishing the draft exemption for yeshiva students

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
Former Supreme Court president Miriam Naor at her 2015 inauguration
Former Supreme Court president Miriam Naor at her 2015 inaugurationCredit: Kobi Gideon
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Retired Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, who died on Monday at the age of 74, was laid to rest Tuesday at Jerusalem’s Sanhedria cemetery.

Among those eulogizing the late Supreme Court justice at a funeral attended by hundreds were Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the current Supreme Court president, Esther Hayut, as well as Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Sa’ar’s predecessor, Ayelet Shaked, who is now interior minister.

In his remarks, President Herzog said that it can be said without hesitation that she did her duty and fulfilled her mission up to the end. Addressing her in the first person, he said, “You managed to carry the legal torch and you spread light that was seen at a distance, and you have left a tremendous legacy behind. You will be remembered as a queen of justice,” he said, someone who “indisputably became the queen of Israeli law.”

In eulogizing the late justice, Prime Minister Bennett noted that at the time of her death, she headed the state commission of inquiry on last year’s stampede at Mount Meron, which took the lives of 45 people. He last spoke to Naor, he noted, when she submitted the commission’s interim findings. “I heard her genuine concern in her voice for human beings and the responsibility to prevent such a disaster from happening again.”

Interior Minister Shaked, who was justice minister when Naor served as Supreme Court president, said, “It’s no secret that Miriam and I had considerable disagreements. Out of mutual respect, with the good of the State of Israel in mind, we managed the disagreements in a respectful manner and on the merits. President Naor always told me that the presidency [of the court] was a heavy burden, and that her great love was primarily her work as a justice,” Shaked noted, adding that when she retired Naor greatly missed her work on the bench.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at Miriam Naor's funeral on TuesdayCredit: Kobi Gideon

“Symbolically, when she retired, the era of justices who were born prior to the country’s establishment ended,” Shaked noted. “She was a justice who was thoroughly knowledgeable about the case, and nothing escaped her.” She strictly managed the cases over which she presided, and “her decisions, even if at times I absolutely didn’t agree with them, were constructed magnificently,” the former justice minister said.

Justice Esther Hayut, the current president of the court, said Naor had made “an indelible mark in every area of the law at formative junctures when as a justice she was required to deal with complicated and complex cases that were fateful to Israeli public life.”

“But anyone who had the privilege of knowing Miriam Naor the justice up close knows that [she] related to each case before [her] with the same seriousness and attention, and that the principle that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law was [her] guiding principle,” Hayut said.

“You believed that judicial work required one to be free of a desire for an outcome that would be popular, and on this score, you lived up to your principles,” Hayut added. “You managed to read material from the commission of inquiry until the wee hours of the night. You went to sleep, and your heart stopped,” Hayut said of Naor’s passing.

Naor was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2003 and served as its president from January 2015 through October 2017.

Over the past few months, she served as the chairwoman of the state commission of inquiry into the Mount Meron disaster. Her death is likely to cause delays in the committee's work since new chairperson will have to be appointed in her stead.

She is survived by her husband Arye Naor, who was cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and their twin sons.

Prime Minister Bennett hailed Naor's years of service, calling her "a people's person, above all." According to Bennett, "In her rulings, she maintained the necessary balance between the values of the Israeli society and strengthening the state's national and Zionist character."

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar expressed his condolences to her family, calling her a true judge in all of her essence who climbed to the top of the court system. "An excellent, analytic, thorough, industrious, detail-oriented judge and litigator," he said.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked at Miriam Naor's funeral on Tuesday

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid eulogized a "strong woman, who dedicated her life, wisdom and experience to the benefit of justice and law in Israel." Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu lauded her "deep commitment to the State of Israel."

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit called Naor "a beacon of justice, wisdom and values," adding in a statement: "Her impressive legacy – in promoting dialog and maintaining separation of powers, in her commitment to a just, equal society in Israel and advancing values of truth and justice – will stay with us forever."

Two decades on the Supreme Court

Naor grew up in Jerusalem and studied at the Rechavia (Hebrew) Gymnasium high school in the capital. After being discharged from her military service as a teacher-soldier in the development town of Kiryat Gat in 1967, Naor completed her law degree with honors at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1971. She did her internship as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Moshe Landau.

After passing the bar, she worked for years in the State Prosecutor’s Office and reached the position of senior deputy to the state prosecutor. In 1980 she was appointed to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, and was promoted to the district court in 1989. She was made an acting Supreme Court judge in 2001, until her appointment to a permanent spot in June 2003.

Naor led the Supreme Court during a period during which the justices and former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked had a number of disagreements over policy. In November 2016, Naor sent penned a pointed letter in light of Shaked’s plan to change the Judicial Appointments Committee's voting methods in order to eliminate the de facto veto of the Supreme Court justices. Naor called Shaked’s idea “putting a pistol on the table” and threatened that the Supreme Court justices would stop their dialogue with Shaked. In the end, Shaked’s proposed changes were never implemented. In spite of these differences, Naor and Shaked became good friends.

While Naor was Supreme Court president and the chairwoman of the Judicial Appointments Committee, former Bar Association President Efraim "Effi" Naveh's scandal, in which he was suspected of promoting Judge Eti Craif in exchange for sexual favors, came to light. Naor testified to the police that she and the appointments committee members had already decided upon promoting judicial candidates outside the framework of their official meetings. She told them that the committee held unofficial discussions and came to the set meetings with their minds already made up "to a great extent."

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar at Miriam Naor's funeral on TuesdayCredit: GPO

At her retirement ceremony in October 2017, after 37 years on the bench, Naor spoke about the attacks on the Supreme Court and cautioned that judicial independence cannot be taken for granted, and must be preserved: “If we do not defend democracy, democracy will not defend us.”

“I have been president of the Supreme Court for the last three years. It has not been an easy time,” Naor said at the time. “During that time, things were said against the court, including crass expressions that I will not repeat. Material criticism is legitimate and important, but things said in recent years, often without reading the ruling in whole or in part, deviated from the boundaries of legitimate criticism.”

Over the years, Naor has been part of several landmark rulings. She was on the bench when the court overruled a law to keep asylum seekers in detention, and authored the ruling stating that the government's draft exemption for yeshiva students be rescinded. She also ruled that Israel should recognize non-Orthodox conversion to Judaism.

In her latest public office, Naor headed the inquiry commission into the Mount Meron pilgrimage last year, where 45 people died. In November, she submitted an interim report to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, which included numerous recommendations for this year's event.

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