Kim Treiger-Bar-Am

A Call for a Constitutional Convention

The time is ripe to hold a Constitutional Convention.

Since 1948, a constitution hasn’t been written, but repeated attempts have been made. It has been discussed over and over again. Current events might pose a moment of a constitutional crisis – or a moment for a Constitutional Convention.

It will help the people of Israel to have a narrative to hold on to. A Constitutional Convention could build a narrative. Planning a constituton, discussing it, building it, holding it, and then living it and its effects into the future, will energize the nation.  It will sustain us.

Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. The narrative of a Constitutional Convention will call forth reminders of standing at Mount Sinai. This is not, of course, to equate or compare the two events, but to recall the central covenant in the history of the Jewish people. The story of the covenant of Jewish tradition was used at the time of the founding of the United States of America. It can be used now, in Israel.

All of the people were standing at Sinai. They stood together. (BT-Shabbat 39a.) We should, today, stand together as well.

We must engage in dialogue with each other. The dialogue, as well as efforts to understand the contrasting views, should be deep. The Jewish tradition is steeped in debate. The Talmud is a recording of expansive debates, which continued and expanded over time. The schools of Hillel and Shammai of Talmudic times were famous for their disagreement as well as for their continued debate. Hillel’s opinions were said to be preferred because Hillel stated Shammai’s opinions before his own. (BT-Eruvin 13b (R. Aba, citing Shmu’el).) Today too we should talk to each other, and listen to each other.

Does the Jewish tradition accord the notion of consent in acceptance of the covenant? The Talmud records a debate as to whether the Jewish people in fact accepted the covenant freely. The argument is accepted that at the time of Purim it was accepted by choice (קיימו וקיבלו). (Book of Esther 9:27, BT-Shabbat 88a (Rava).) Today too a constitution should be adopted in freedom by the people.

Dignity – kavod – is central in Jewish tradition. The term appears hundreds of times in the Torah, and thousands of times in the Talmud. Forming a constitution will foster the dignity of the people. They deserve it. And the dignity of all should be recognized in Israel’s constitution.

Israel needs a constitution. It is time for a Constitutional Convention. We are currently embedded in a crisis. This is a way out of it. A constitution will resolve the issue of relations between the branches of government. It hopefully will ease tensions in society, as avenues chosen by the people become clear. The Constitutional Convention will provide the people with a narrative, of recalling the Mount Sinai formation of a covenant, of solidifying the democratic system of government in Israel, and of the strengthening of the Jewish and democratic state. In tune with the government’s proposals of a change of regime, and in tune with the chants of the protestors opposing it, a Constitutional Convention will provide the nation with a stronghold: a narrative of democracy.

Dr. Kim Treiger-Bar-Am


About the Author
Kim made aliyah from the US after her studies of law and philosophy at Yale. She completed her doctorate in law at Oxford. She has practiced as a lawyer and taught at various Universities in Israel. She is the author of three books: "Positive Freedom and the Law", as well as "Freedom and Respect in Jewish Ethics", and recently "The Ethics of Truth."
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