Why Israel Needs the Nation-State Law

In 1992, Israel passed its Basic Law on human dignity and liberty, which guarantees to its citizens certain protections roughly equivalent to those found in the American Bill of Rights. Aharon Barak, then a justice of Israel’s supreme court—and soon thereafter its president—argued at the time that this law gave the high court broad authority to strike down laws that in any way violated “human dignity,” a concept Barak believed should be determined by the values of the “enlightened community.” After seeing the court’s sweeping use of this theory, and the power arrogated by its attendant bureaucracy, some Israelis began to argue that the country needed a Basic Law that would serve as a counterweight and enshrine the country’s Jewish character as an inviolate constitutional principle. The result, following seven years of parliamentary wrangling, was the Basic Law the Knesset passed last week, defining Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people.” In conversation with Jonathan Silver, Eugene Kontorovich explains why this law is necessary, and rebuts some arguments made by its critics. (Audio, 25 minutes. Options for download and streaming are available at the link below.)

Read more at Jewish Leadership Conference

More about: Aharon Barak, Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli politics, Israeli Supreme Court

The Rise of Denominational Judaism in America

For some time, the divisions separating Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism have been basic facts of American Jewish life—although every few years some discussion arises about the possible end or reshuffling of these categories. Zev Eleff delves into the origins of these denominations, and how Jews came to speak of denominations at all, in conversation with Dovid Bashevkin. Among much else, Eleff explains that it was pragmatism, rather than egalitarianism, that motivated early reformers to switch from the traditional sex-segregated synagogue to mixed pews. For one of the first American rabbis to assert his Orthodoxy, the sticking point was his commitment to “congregationalism”—that is the independence of local communities from governing bodies. (Audio, 128 minutes. Interview begins at 49:26.) A transcript can be found at the link below.)

Read more at 18Forty

More about: American Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Orthodoxy, Reform Judaism