The Center for Jewish and Democratic Law

Integrating the values of Democracy and Judaism, highlighting their synergy, and seeking practical ways to bridge differences through legislation, conferences and platforms for discussion.

Jewish and Democratic Law

Research Group: Faculty of Law in collaboration with MKs, Government Ministers, public activists

The Basic Laws of the State of Israel define the state and its legal system as both Jewish and democratic. However, what does this mean?

In Israel’s democracy the legislators are elected, but in Jewish law, the legislators — who are also the judges — are the best scholars, not election winners. There are no elections. However, what is a democracy without elections? Moreover, what is Jewish law without a commitment to Torah and mitzvot — starting with the mitzvot about how to run a state?

While the contemporary Jewish State embodies myriad small compromise solutions to the tensions between Jewish and secular-democratic law, every day Israel’s citizens struggle with the apparent conflict between Torah and democracy, in issues of marriage, immigration, transportation during Shabbat, and much more.

The Center for Jewish and Democratic Law integrates both values of our Jewish heritage and of democratic, emphasizes the possible harmony and synergy between the Jewish and democratic facets of the State, and seeks practical ways Israeli law can both embody our Jewish national identity and accommodate our diverse citizenry.

The Path Forward

The Center for Jewish and Democratic Law focuses its activities in education, research, and public discussion forums. It is a haven for researchers, teachers, and public activists from diverse backgrounds who wish to think deeply about how to realize commitments both to Jewish tradition and to democratic ideals.

Among its many accomplishments to date, the Center for Jewish and Democratic Law has:

Proposed legislation to Knesset providing for civil unions to resolve tension around religious control of life-cycle events;

Advised Knesset on legislation about Shabbat and the public sphere;

Forged a platform in the Knesset for negotiation between religious and secular groups, to which many political parties have sent representatives; and

Conducted human rights seminars for rabbis, seminars in Judaism for human-rights activists, international conferences on salient topics, and fellowship programs to cultivate alliances with scholars and institutions around the world.

Hosted groups of high school students, both religious and secular, for study, discussion, and simulated Knesset debates on topics including Shabbat, marriage, divorce, and conversion.

Conducted year-long research programs on responsibility, on the community, and on decision-making, and hosted year-end conferences where researchers shared results for responsibility and community;

Addressed vital issues in our Public Forum for Jewish and Democratic Discourse: Jewish and Democratic Education, Conversion, Sabbath in the Public Sphere, Civil Marriage, Separation and Inclusion in various contexts;

Held numerous other conferences and public events, including prestigious participants like Former Supreme Court Presidents Hon. Aharon Barak, Hon. Dorit Beinisch, and Hon. Miriam Naor, and reached thousands of people.

Upcoming projects include developing an ethical code—a two-year project for which we have partnered with top law firm Lipa Meir & Co.—and additional programs for high school students around the country.

The Champions

Bar-Ilan was founded on its commitments to our Jewish roots and our democratic state, its Faculty of Law is the strongest in Israel, and the members for the Center have exceptional relationships connections with MKs and Cabinet members.

The Director of the Center for Jewish and Democratic Law is Prof. Shahar Lifshitz, a former judge and former Dean of the Faculty of Law. Prof. Lifshitz specializes in family law, contract law, human rights, and Judaism. Since 2009 he has served as co-chairman of the Forum for Cooperation between the Supreme Court and Israeli Legal Academia.

Prof. Lifshitz received a BA in psychology, as well as his LLB, LLM and Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University. He completed post-doctoral studies at the New York University Faculty of Law, and he has served as a visiting professor at Columbia University.

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