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As Knesset tackles religion, expect things to get interesting

As the Knesset tackles religion during its summer session, expect things to get interesting

The summer session of the Knesset kicked off today and will run until the last week of July. All parties expect a particularly intensive session with the Knesset and the media abuzz with rumors of impending elections. MKs will be particularly busy, as all Knesset business is “reset” between elections. Legislation that does not pass into law soon could be shelved indefinitely.

The central issue of this session, the issue that could dissolve the Knesset and send the country to elections, will be the debate over religion and state. Expect to see several major pieces of legislation on this issue debated in the coming weeks.

Two similar bills, presented separately by Israel Beitenu MK Fania Kirshenbaum and Kadima’s Otniel Schneller, will grant Israeli couples the right to register to marry outside of the municipality in which they reside. These bills, commonly referred to as the “Tzohar Laws” after the rabbinic group, are meant to enable young Israelis to choose the rabbis who will register their marriage, hopefully creating competitive pressure to encourage the rabbinate as a whole to become more accepting and user-friendly.

The Knesset plenum (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Knesset plenum (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The bills have been bogged down in negotiations with haredi parties for over a year. But they passed the required preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum in December by a vote of 57 to 15 and then went to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where they were approved for a first reading on March 18. The bills will hopefully go to the full Knesset plenum for a first reading in the coming weeks. If they pass the first reading, they could be united and passed into law (which will take another visit to the Law Committee and second and third readings in the plenum) before the end of the current session.

Another bill, which has not yet been presented in any Knesset forum, seeks to abolish Israel’s local religious councils and transfer the services they provide – burial, marriage registration, kashrut certification – to local government. Since the bill, presented by Israel Beitenu MK Robert Ilatov, is still at an early stage of the legislative process, it is unlikely to pass before the end of the session.

Meretz MKs Nitzan Horowitz and Ilan Gilon are currently advancing a bill that would allow adopted grandchildren to automatically inherit their adoptive grandparents. Currently, in the absence of a will, an adopted child inherits only their adoptive parents — not their grandparents. Haredi parties oppose the bill, which continues the decades-long trend of moving judicial authority over inheritance from halachic sources and rabbinic courts to civil courts and legislation. The law will be debated in the Law Committee, chaired by Israel Beitenu MK David Rotem, this Wednesday.

But the most politically charged piece of legislation in this session will be the Tal Law, which creates a mechanism for exempting young haredi men from military service. The law was struck down by the High Court of Justice in a historic ruling at the end of the last session and is set to expire on August 1. A great deal of energy will be devoted this session to deciding how to deal with the impending deadline. One proposal, presented by Israel Beitenu, calls for forcibly pressing the haredi sector into military and national service. It may be brought to a preliminary vote as soon as Wednesday, May 9. Meanwhile, the ruling Likud party has yet to present a concrete proposal, though many expect the party to take a more moderate approach that expands participation in military and national service through incentives rather than force.

The curtains have been drawn. Let the debate begin.

About the Author
Rachel Gur is legislative director of the Coalition in the Knesset. She wants to help Israelis, and Anglos especially, to become involved in the political process. Rachel lives in Jerusalem and is interested in labor law, constitutional law, religion and state and civil marriage issues.