Mishael Cheshin, Former Israeli Supreme Court Justice, Dies at 79

Cheshin retired from his position as deputy Supreme Court president in 2006. His rulings molded Israel's legal system.

Michal Fattal

Former Supreme Court Justice Mishael Cheshin died Saturday after a long battle with cancer. He was 79.

Cheshin retired from his position as deputy Supreme Court president in 2006. His rulings molded Israel's legal system.

His funeral will be held on Sunday, September 20, at 5:30 P.M. at the Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha cemetery.

Last week, Cheshin's wife, Ruth, told the financial newspaper Calcalist that he was "somewhat defeated" by the death of their son in a hit-and-run accident in 2010, as well as the cancer he was battling.

Cheshin was born in 1936 in Beirut, grew up in Tel Aviv and moved to Jerusalem at the age of 14. His father, Shneur Zalman Cheshin, also served as a judge and a deputy Supreme Court president.

Cheshin began his legal studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at the age of 17, and received his law doctorate at 26. He then joined the State Prosecutor's Office, gradually moving up to the position of deputy to Attorney General Meir Shamgar. Cheshin resigned in 1978 to start a private law firm. He was appointed to the Supreme Court justice in 1992.

 Cheshin was known for his figurative language and unique style.

In his first judgement, which dealt with the law preventing residents of the occupied territories from receiving Israeli citizenship when they married Israeli citizens, Cheshin voted with the majority against the repeal of the law. But he opposed the position of court president Aharon Barak and criticized Barak in his judgement.

Cheshin agreed that the law discriminated against Arab Israelis who marry residents of the territories, but noted that the state was not legally obligated to allow the entry of foreign citizens, enemy aliens, who married its citizens. Because Israel was in a state of war, it had the right to prevent the entrance of enemies, even if a minority was prejudiced by the law. The advantage accrued to the country's citizens.

He was regarded as an activist judge who believed in the principle of judicial oversight over laws, not because they might contravene basic laws legislated by the Knesset but because they might contravene unwritten and overriding principles.

He clashed many times with Barak and often found himself in the minority. That was the case with a judgement dealing with the 2006 Tal Law regarding the conscription of yeshiva students. Eight Knesset members believed that the law violated the principle of equality in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, but the court rejected the petition in order to see whether the law fulfilled its objectives.

Cheshin thought that the law should be scrapped immediately. "I'm sorry, but I can't add my signature to those of my colleagues," he said. "In my view, the law has been infected by a genetic defect since birth and such a defect is impossible to heal or fix. I didn't find any justice for the extraordinary privileges the law gives to yeshiva students, in preference to young people who are not in yeshiva.

"The harm it does to the principle of equality is so profound and so deep that I was unable to see how it could be justified. It gives yeshiva students four years postponement [from conscription] on a silver platter, while those who aren't yeshiva students don't get the same, whether in full or in part."

Cheshin believed that the Tal law should be scrapped, not because it harmed the principle of equality but because it violated "all the basic laws that are woven into our lives, all the truth, all the aspirations, all the hopes that the state of Israel is built on."