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State & Religion

JPW Knesset Update

Welcome to all our friends!

On Wednesday, December 26, 2018, lawmakers voted to dissolve the Knesset and scheduled new elections for April 9, 2019. The ongoing crisis surrounding the Israel Defense Services Law, a core issue in the state and religion discourse, triggered the decision, promising an election campaign centered on issues of state and religion, pluralism and equality. We at Jewish Pluralism Watch will be following the campaign throughout, reporting on developments and promoting a civil and pluralistic agenda. Please follow us on the JPW website, facebook and twitter.


Following its unexpected and premature demise, we will attempt to give a brief summary of the Winter Assembly of the 20th Knesset, through the breakdown and analysis of over 500 items of information that we gathered during the Assembly (approximate numbers): 400 comments by Members of the Knesset (MK’s) on matters of state and religion, 20 committees and lobbies that met to discuss these matters, 30 motions and parliamentary queries that were submitted to the Knesset and 62 bills that were discussed or submitted during the Assembly dealing with gender and LGBT equality, the Western Wall, Shabbat, kashrut, conversion, marriage and divorce, and religious services in Israel.



62 bills were introduced and discussed over the course of the short Winter Assembly, a third (20) of which were concerned with countering discrimination against the LGBT community, civil unions for same-sex couples, surrogacy, banning conversion therapy for minors, adoption and more. A further 11 bills concerning marriage and divorce in Israel sought amongst other things to allow civil marriage and divorce, and to overturn the clause determining a prison sentence for couples who marry outside the rabbinate. 10 bills dealt with issues relating to Shabbat, such as operating limited public transport or bills proposing to revoke the so-called “supermarket law” (concerning the opening of supermarkets and restaurants on Shabbat). Other bills concerned issues of equality, gender, religious services and conversion.

53 of these bills sought to promote religious freedom and limit the authority of religious institutions, while 8 bills sought to advance religious centralization, strengthen the religious monopoly, and restrict religious freedom.

38 of the 62 bills which were placed on the Knesset table were not advanced at all during the Winter Assembly. 21 bills were removed from the Knesset table, two bills passed a preliminary reading: a bill seeking to establish an internet database of men who have refused to grant their wives a divorce, and a bill seeking to prevent discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. No bills concerning state and religion were passed into law during this Assembly, none of them even reaching second or third readings.

The largest number of bills on matters of state and religion was submitted by the Zionist Union with 23 bills, followed by Yesh Atid and Meretz with 11 and 8 bills respectively.


During the Winter Assembly we gathered about 400 comments on topics of state and religion of which 84 were LGBT-related concerning amongst other things the surrogacy law which was passed at the close of the Summer Assembly and which discriminated against the LGBT community. 77 comments related to Diaspora Jewry, a subject that significantly occupied the Knesset following the massacre at the Pittsburgh conservative synagogue. Further breakdown shows the Shabbat with 49 comments, religious freedom and equality with 42 comments, and marriage and divorce, religious services and conversion each receiving 30 comments.

The Zionist Union was the most vocal faction on state and religion, with 102 comments (a quarter of total comments in this area), followed by Yesh Atid with 71 comments and Meretz with 37, a very high number relative to the number of MK’s in this faction.

Most vocal MK’s were MK Aliza Lavie (22 comments), MK Bezalel Smotrich (21), Minister of the Interior and of Religious Affairs Aryeh Deri (19), MK Yair Lapid (17), MK Merav Michaeli (16), and MK Michal Rozin (15).


A total of 18 committees and one lobby held discussions on matters of state and religion during the Winter Assembly, the highest number (6) being in the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs chaired by MK Avraham Neguise.

In addition, 25 motions for the agenda and 7 parliamentary queries on topics of state and religion were submitted during the Winter Assembly – religious freedom being the most popular subject.

In the next few days we will publish the complete final report of the 20th Knesset, with a time line spreading over four years of intense activity with many ups and downs for state and religion, a breakdown of all bills that passed during this Assembly, a summary of all budgets that were directed towards the various religious services and the budgeting of Orthodox Judaism and its various institutions.


On Monday the leader of Yesh Atid MK Yair Lapid announced that his party would not support the draft bill (concerning recruitment of ultra-Orthodox men into the military): “The coalition has cut a deal with the ultra-Orthodox, and that is why we will not support the bill.” Coalition leaders responded by dissolving the Knesset. Read more

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Minister Yariv Levin to the post of Minister of Immigration and Absorption, over and above his positions as Minister of Tourism and Minister who liaises between the Knesset and the cabinet. We at the JPW have assembled some of Minister Levin’s comments on Diaspora Jewry and the different streams of Judaism. Read more

Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel in a letter to Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein protesting the early adjournment of the plenum because of the Christmas holiday: “The decision to award official recognition to this kind of event damages the character of the state.” Read more

MK Merav Michaeli commenting on Rabbi Yehuda Deri’s letter to the Ramon family (late astronaut Ilan Ramon’s family) protesting the recently deceased Rona Ramon’s request to be cremated: “Israel is a democratic country, a country that has to allow freedom of religion and freedom from religion.” Read more

At the Israel Democracy Institute’s conference on Religious Services and Pluralism, MK Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan presented his perspective on the relationship between religion and state in Israel: “Israel is the only country for Jews in the world, and it is therefore impossible to separate religion and state in Israel.” Read more

Moments before the dissolution of the Knesset, the Finance Committee chaired by MK Moshe Gafni transferred 11 million shekels from the budgets of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministries of Education and Tourism to the Ministry of Religious Services, for the funding of, amongst other things, the restoration of the Rambam’s Grave, support for the Ma’arat Hamachpelah (Cave of the Patriots), and upgrading the offices of the Chief Rabbis of Israel. Read more

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened for a brief discussion of the Head of the Conversion Authority’s resignation. MK Elazar Stern: The existing monopoly over conversions is a barrier for many who would like to be part of the Jewish world.” Read more

We invite you to come to the Knesset and participate in the discussion. Write us and we will assist you in coordinating your visit. Email us at: JPW@masorti.org.il

As always, you are welcome to follow the JPW’s Facebook page and twitter account in real time, and to invite English speakers to sign up to receive this newsletter by writing to us at: JPW@masorti.org.il

Shavua tov,


Nerya Raphael Knafo                               Emily Levy-Shochat

Director, Jewish Pluralism Watch           Chair, Jewish Pluralism Watch


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