Freedom of Religion in Israel

Israel's legal system provides for freedom for all religious groups.

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"It is decided law that rules of International law constitute part of the law prevailing in Israel insofar as they have been accepted by the majority of the nations of the world and are not inconsistent with any enactment of the Knesset (Parliament). The principles of freedom of religion are similar to the other rights of man, as these have been laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, and in the Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, 1965. These are now the heritage of all enlightened peoples, whether or not they are members of the United Nations Organization and whether or not they have as yet ratified them. . . for they have been drawn up by legal experts from all countries of the world and been prescribed by the [General] Assembly of the United Nations, in which by far the larger part of the nations of the world participates." 

Justice Landau also emphasized the right of freedom of conscience: 

"Every person in Israel enjoys freedom of conscience, of belief, of religion, and of worship. This freedom is guaranteed to every person in every enlightened, democratic regime, and therefore it is guaranteed to every person in Israel. It is one of the fundamental principles upon which the State of Israel is based… This freedom is partly based on Article 83 of the Palestine Order in Council of 1922, and partly it is one of those fundamental rights that "are not written in the book" but derive directly from the nature of our state as a peace-loving, democratic state… On the basis of the rules--and in accordance with the Declaration of Independence--every law and every power will be interpreted as recognizing freedom of conscience, of belief, of religion, and of worship." 

Israel's Supreme Court has not yet ruled squarely on the issue of the protection of religious liberty under the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. However, several decisions and other writings by some of the Justices indicate support for the view that the general right to human dignity protected by the Basic Law includes, inter alia, freedom of religion and conscience, which consequently has the status of a supreme, constitutional legal norm. Thus, for example, during the Gulf War, the Supreme Court ruled that when supplying gas masks, the government should endeavor to supply special masks for religious men who maintain beards out of religious conviction.

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Prof. Shimon Shetreet

Shimon Shetreet is a law professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was the Minister of Religious Affairs in the Yitzhak Rabin government (1992-96).