Ruling for Yoram Kaniuk Hailed as Major Victory for Separation of State and Religion

Sapir Prize winner Yoram Kaniuk sets legal precedent implying that all Israelis can self-determine their own religious identity.

The court ruling last week that granted the writer Yoram Kaniuk the right to be registered with the Interior Ministry as "without religion" rather than as Jewish, is a step in the direction of separation of religion and state. Such is the view of Irit Rosenblum, who heads the New Family organization, which favors making civil marriage more easily available in the country.

Currently Jewish Israelis can only marry other Jews in the country under the auspices of the Orthodox rabbinate. A law was passed last year that allows civil unions and considers them as marriage for all intents and purposes - but only under special, limited circumstances in which both parties are registered as having no religion. The legislation was criticized for not allowing people to marry in a religious ceremony because they are not of the same religion, and for not allowing people who do not want a religious ceremony to get married in Israel.

Author Yoram Kaniuk - Daniel Tchetchik - 2009
Daniel Tchetchik

Each year, about 3,000 Israelis undergo civil marriage ceremonies in Cyprus and a similar number marry in non-Orthodox Jewish ceremonies in the country, says Rosenblum. The fact that the judge in Kaniuk's case ruled that he can be registered as "without religion" without a burden of proof, could enable thousands of others to apply each year to the courts to receive a declaration that they, too, are without religion and enable them to register as a couple through the civil union provision.

"The court took a giant step toward separation of religion and state," Rosenblum notes.

"The ruling shows how ridiculous and outrageous the Orthodox monopoly over religious services and population registration is in Israel," says Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Masorti movement in Israel, which is affiliated with Conservative Judaism.

"It's absurd," he adds, "that the state of the Jews is pushing the best of its sons and daughters away from their religion and away from the tradition of living as free people. Israel is the only country in the Western world in which Jews don't have freedom of religion. Now we are paying the price for this outrageous insensitivity."