Religion, Politics and Gender Equality among Jews in Israel

By Ruth Halperin-Kaddari and Yaacov Yadgar

By Ruth Halperin-Kaddari and Yaacov Yadgar

June 2010

When thinking of politics of religion and state and their effect on gender relations, the case of Israel is unique in many respects: Israel has been established as a State for the Jewish People (in its Declaration of Independence), and is defined as a Jewish and democratic State (in its Basic Laws); there has never been formal separation between religion and state in Israel’s legal and political structure and religion is intertwined at all levels of governance, political society, and civil society. The struggle against religious exclusive rule over marriage and divorce has been on the agenda of women’s organizations since the British mandate on Palestine with not much success; religious laws’ exclusive jurisdiction is still maintained in matters of marriage and divorce and civil marriage is non-existent in Israel. In addition, Israel’s continuing, violent conflict with its Arab neighbours has overshadowed most other civil and social issues, rendering them “secondary” to the primary concern of securing the safe existence of the State. This paper demonstrates how this perception has pushed such pressing issues as gender equality and women’s rights aside, marking them “less important” than the national conflict, thus allowing for the perpetuation of discriminatory, sometimes rather repressive treatment of women in Israel. The most blatant expression of this is the turning of the struggle for civil marriage and divorce into a non-issue.

This paper first presents a concise historical review of this political context, as well as a discussion of the socio-cultural background against which issues of women, religion and state should be considered. This is followed by a review of the Israeli political system and its influence on women’s status, including some background information on gender and politics in Israel. It then proceeds with a more detailed review and legal analysis of women’s status in Israeli society. A discussion of women’s organizations within Israeli civil society, highlighting the emergence of religious feminism, concludes the paper.




  • Ruth Halperin-Kaddari 
    Ruth Halperin-Kaddari is the Chair of the Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women and Professor at the Faculty of Law, Bar-Ilan University, Israel, as well as member of the UN CEDAW Experts Committee. She holds a J.S.D. from Yale Law School, New Haven, USA. Her main research and teaching interests are Family Law, Feminist Jurisprudence, and Bioethics. Among her numerous publications are “Women in Israel: A State of Their Own” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) and articles on family law, as well as on religion and multiculturalism in Israel.
  • Yaacov Yadgar
    Yaacov Yadgar teaches at the department of political studies, Bar-Ilan University. His research deals with issues of nationalism, ethnicity, religion and identity among Israeli Jews. His book “Israeli Traditionists: Modernity without secularization” is forthcoming in Hebrew.

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