Former Israeli Supreme Court President Miriam Naor Dies at 74

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

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Former Supreme Court President Miriam Naor at a conference in Herzliya in 2020.
Former Supreme Court President Miriam Naor at a conference in Herzliya in 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

Former Supreme Court President Miriam Naor died on Monday at age 74. She 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 deadly Mount Meron stampede. Her death is likely to cause delays in the committee's work; a 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 Naftali 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.

Miriam Naor and Esther Hayut, who replaced her as Supreme Court president.Credit: אורן בן חקון

President Isaac Herzog called Naor "queen of justice and a giant of the Israeli legal world." 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.

Miriam Naor presiding over the Meron inquiry commission, on Sunday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

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." 

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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