A New Book on the Founding of Israel

According to observers who know much more about the situation than I, the debate over judicial reform in Israel suggests a profound struggle over the country’s basic character as a Jewish and democratic state. Israel’s founders thought they could have it both ways–that a political religious identity could exist together with secular pluralism in a creative tension. The events of this summer show that the balance is becoming harder. A new book from Cambridge University Press, Israel’s Declaration of Independence: The History and Political Theory of the Nation’s Founding Moment, discusses the perhaps unsustainable vision of the people who founded the Jewish State. The authors are Neil Rogachevsky (Yeshiva University) and Don Zigler. Here is the publisher’s description:

Israel’s Declaration of Independence brings to life the debates and decisions at the founding of the state of Israel. Through a presentation of the drafts of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in English for the first time, Neil Rogachevsky and Dov Zigler shed new light on the dilemmas of politics, diplomacy, and values faced by Israel’s leaders as they charted the path to independence and composed what became modern Israel’s most important political text. The stakes began with war, state-building, strategy, and great power politics, and ascended to matters of high principle: freedom, liberty, sovereignty, rights, and religion. Using fast-paced narration of the meetings of Israel’s leadership in April and May 1948, this volume tells the astonishing story of the drafting of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, enriching and reframing the understanding of Israel’s founding and its ideas – and tracing its legacy.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • The Third Circuit heard oral arguments in Reilly v. City of Harrisburg, a case involving anti-abortion sidewalk counselors challenging a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ordinance creating a 20-foot buffer zone around healthcare facilities including abortion clinics. The lower court had previously dismissed the suit for insufficient evidence of free speech and assembly rights violations.
  • In Erie v. Hunter, a Louisiana federal district court did not dismiss a case by a mental health detainee, Erie, who was allegedly forced to attend a Christian service. The court rejected the argument that defendant faced a “binary choice,” arguing there were “other options [Ms. Hunter] could have use [sic] to locate other staff” to supervise those not attending the service.
  • In Olympus Spa v. Armstrong, a Washington court dismissed a suit by a women’s spa challenging a law against gender identity discrimination. The spa argued that the law infringed on its religious and free expression rights, but the court held that the law was neutral and generally applicable, and dismissed the spa’s freedom of association claims.
  • In Anonymous Plaintiff 1 v. Individual Members of the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana, an Indiana state trial court has certified as a class action a suit contesting Indiana’s abortion restrictions. The plaintiffs, who have already been granted a preliminary injunction, argue that their religious beliefs permit or even mandate abortions in cases disallowed by Indiana law. The class has been defined as individuals in Indiana whose religious beliefs direct them to obtain abortions prohibited by Senate Enrolled Act No. 1(ss) but are unable to do so due to the Act.
  • The St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School has been approved to become the first publicly-funded religious charter school in the U.S., by a 3-2 vote from the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, a decision that “caps months of debate over government support for sectarian education.” Americans United announced they are preparing a lawsuit to challenge the approval.
  • A dispute between Miami Beach and the Orthodox Jewish Congregation Bais Yeshaya D’Kerestir scheduled for trial in federal court has been settled, with Miami Beach agreeing to pay the congregation $1.3 million. The congregation argued that their property was being used for “private prayer,” not as a synagogue, and drew parallels to homeowners hosting parties. The city, however, presented evidence that the house was indeed functioning as a synagogue, including an industrial-size coffee urn and benches for up to 30 people.

Law and Religion in Judaism and Christianity

Jews and Christians–or, more correctly, Judaism and Christianity–have been contesting the place and purpose of law for two thousand years. It’s a debate that never exhausts itself, because each religion has defined itself largely as against the other, and law has been one of the central points of controversy. This month, the British publisher, James Clarke & Co., releases an addition to the debate, Law and Religion: Essays on the Place of the Law in Israel and Early Christianity, edited by the late Biblical scholar Barnabas Lindars of the University of Manchester. The book’s introduction indicates that most of the papers date from decades ago, so I’m not sure why the collection is appearing only now. Anyway, the table of contents looks very interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The place of the Law and its relationship to religious observance and faith is a contested topic in the study of both the Old and New Testament. In Law and Religion, members of the Erhardt Seminar group provide an insight into the debate, probing key topics and offering new contributions to the subject. Their essays are grouped into three sections, focusing in turn on the Law’s place in Israelite religion, in the Jesus tradition, and in Paul and the Apostolic tradition.

Thus, the foundation of the connection between law and religion in ancient Israel is explored, along with the decisive influence of the Deuteronomic reform and the radical new understanding now emerging of the later development in Judaism of the New Testament Period. So, also, the contemporary challenge to the conventional picture of Jesus and the Law is addressed, the attitude of Paul is shown in new light, and post-Pauline developments are examined. Readers will find in this symposium a refreshing breadth of opinion on a debate that spans the gamut of disciplines within Biblical studies.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

  • In Greene v. Teslik, the 7th Circuit dismissed a Protestant inmate’s complaint that prison officials violated the Free Exercise clause by denying his access to prayer oil. The court concluded that the officials were protected by qualified immunity. The court remanded the prisoner’s Establishment Clause claim for further development at trial, however.
  • In Harmon v. City of Norman, Oklahoma, the 10th Circuit affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of challenges to the city’s disturbing-the-peace ordinance brought by anti-abortion activates who demonstrate outside abortion clinics. The court reasoned, in part, that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the city ordinance.
  • In Ravan v. Talton, the 11th Circuit held that a Jewish plaintiff should have been able to move ahead with RLUIPA claims against a food service, and First Amendment Free Exercise claims against two food service workers, for denial of kosher meals on seven different occasions while he was in a county detention center. The court stated that “the number of missed meals is not necessarily determinative because being denied three Kosher meals in a row might be more substantial of a burden on religion [than] being denied three meals in three months.”
  • Becket, a non-profit religious freedom law firm, has petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari in Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia v. Belya. The petition comes after the 2nd Circuit denied a bid by the Church to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought by a former priest who claims he lost an appointment to become the bishop of Miami due to false accusations of fraud and forgery by church officials. In a 6-6 ruling, the court declined to reconsider the ruling made by a three-judge panel last September, with dissenting judges arguing that the decision would infringe on church autonomy.
  • The West Virginia Legislature passed the Equal Protection for Religion Act. The bill prohibits state action that hinders a person’s exercise of religion, unless there is a compelling governmental interest, and the least restrictive means are used. The bill passed the Senate in accelerated fashion after it voted 30-3 to suspend its rules that normally require three readings before a vote. 
  • The Department of Labor has rescinded a Trump-era rule that broadly defined the religious exemption in anti-discrimination requirements for government contractors and subcontractors. The DOL criticized the 2020 rule for increasing “confusion and uncertainty” and for raising a “serious risk” of allowing “contractors to discriminate against individuals based on protected classes other than religion.” The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has emphasized that a qualifying religious organization cannot discriminate against employees based on any protected characteristics other than religion.
  • At a New York Public Library interfaith breakfast, Mayor Eric Adams delivered remarks in which he argued against a separation of church and state in American society. Adams’ chief adviser, Ingrid Lewis-Martin, declared at the event that the mayor’s administration “does not believe” it must “separate church from state.” Adams stated that many societal issues can be traced to a decline in faith. “When we took prayers out of schools, guns came into schools,” the mayor said.

American Shtetl

Most of us who teach church and state courses are familiar with the Kiryas Joel case, decided almost 30 years ago, in which the Supreme Court ruled that a public school district drawn on religious lines violated the Establishment Clause. We’re a little late getting to it, but earlier this year Princeton published a book on the history of the Hasidic community that gave rise to the case.: American Shtetl: The Making of Kiryas Joel, A Hasidic Village in Upstate New York, by law professor Nomi Stolzenberg (USC) and historian David Myers (UCLA). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Settled in the mid-1970s by a small contingent of Hasidic families, Kiryas Joel is an American town with few parallels in Jewish history—but many precedents among religious communities in the United States. This book tells the story of how this group of pious, Yiddish-speaking Jews has grown to become a thriving insular enclave and a powerful local government in upstate New York. While rejecting the norms of mainstream American society, Kiryas Joel has been stunningly successful in creating a world apart by using the very instruments of secular political and legal power that it disavows.

Nomi Stolzenberg and David Myers paint a richly textured portrait of daily life in Kiryas Joel, exploring the community’s guiding religious, social, and economic norms. They delve into the roots of Satmar Hasidism and its charismatic founder, Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum, following his journey from nineteenth-century Hungary to post–World War II Brooklyn, where he dreamed of founding an ideal Jewish town modeled on the shtetls of eastern Europe. Stolzenberg and Myers chart the rise of Kiryas Joel as an official municipality with its own elected local government. They show how constant legal and political battles defined and even bolstered the community, whose very success has coincided with the rise of political conservatism and multiculturalism in American society over the past forty years.

Timely and accessible, American Shtetl unravels the strands of cultural and legal conflict that gave rise to one of the most vibrant religious communities in America, and reveals a way of life shaped by both self-segregation and unwitting assimilation.

Ben-Johanan, “Jacob’s Younger Brother”

I’m delighted to join Marc in re-starting our Scholarship Roundup feature here on the Forum. The feature highlights new books and articles on law and religion (generally speaking) that we think will interest our followers. A few of you have told us you miss the feature–so now it’s back!

Here’s a new book from Harvard, out this month, on Jewish-Catholic relations after Vatican II: Jacob’s Younger Brother: Christian-Jewish Relations after Vatican II, by Karma Ben-Johanan (Humboldt). The author suggests that, behind the scenes, each side of the relationship has continued to have reservations about exactly what the 20th-century rapprochement between these two great religions means. Here’s the publisher’s description:

A revealing account of contemporary tensions between Jews and Christians, playing out beneath the surface of conciliatory interfaith dialogue.

A new chapter in Jewish–Christian relations opened in the second half of the twentieth century when the Second Vatican Council exonerated Jews from the accusation of deicide and declared that the Jewish people had never been rejected by God. In a few carefully phrased statements, two millennia of deep hostility were swept into the trash heap of history.

But old animosities die hard. While Catholic and Jewish leaders publicly promoted interfaith dialogue, doubts remained behind closed doors. Catholic officials and theologians soon found that changing their attitude toward Jews could threaten the foundations of Christian tradition. For their part, many Jews perceived the new Catholic line as a Church effort to shore up support amid atheist and secular advances. Drawing on extensive research in contemporary rabbinical literature, Karma Ben-Johanan shows that Jewish leaders welcomed the Catholic condemnation of antisemitism but were less enthusiastic about the Church’s sudden urge to claim their friendship. Catholic theologians hoped Vatican II would turn the page on an embarrassing history, hence the assertion that the Church had not reformed but rather had always loved Jews, or at least should have. Orthodox rabbis, in contrast, believed they were finally free to say what they thought of Christianity.

Jacob’s Younger Brother pulls back the veil of interfaith dialogue to reveal how Orthodox rabbis and Catholic leaders spoke about each other when outsiders were not in the room. There Ben-Johanan finds Jews reluctant to accept the latest whims of a Church that had unilaterally dictated the terms of Jewish–Christian relations for centuries.

On the Ghetto

The religious associations have largely disappeared, but in its original meaning ghetto referred to a segregated district in which European Jews were required to live–most notably in Italian cities like Venice, Padua, and Rome, where former ghettos have now become tourist attractions. Next month, Harvard releases Ghetto: The History of a Word, which traces the word’s evolving meaning across time. The author is historian Daniel Schwartz (George Washington University). Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

Just as European Jews were being emancipated and ghettos in their original form—compulsory, enclosed spaces designed to segregate—were being dismantled, use of the word ghetto surged in Europe and spread around the globe. Tracing the curious path of this loaded word from its first use in sixteenth-century Venice to the present turns out to be more than an adventure in linguistics.

Few words are as ideologically charged as ghetto. Its early uses centered on two cities: Venice, where it referred to the segregation of the Jews in 1516, and Rome, where the ghetto survived until the fall of the Papal States in 1870, long after it had ceased to exist elsewhere.

Ghetto: The History of a Word offers a fascinating account of the changing nuances of this slippery term, from its coinage to the present day. It details how the ghetto emerged as an ambivalent metaphor for “premodern” Judaism in the nineteenth century and how it was later revived to refer to everything from densely populated Jewish immigrant enclaves in modern cities to the hypersegregated holding pens of Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. We see how this ever-evolving word traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, settled into New York’s Lower East Side and Chicago’s Near West Side, then came to be more closely associated with African Americans than with Jews.

Chronicling this sinuous transatlantic odyssey, Daniel B. Schwartz reveals how the history of ghettos is tied up with the struggle and argument over the meaning of a word. Paradoxically, the term ghetto came to loom larger in discourse about Jews when Jews were no longer required to live in legal ghettos. At a time when the Jewish associations have been largely eclipsed, Ghetto retrieves the history of a disturbingly resilient word.

The Destruction of the Temple (Part II)

Following up on yesterday’s post about the impact the destruction of the Second Temple had on the politics of Christians in the Roman Empire, here is another on the impact the event had on Jews, Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth. The author is Jodi Magness (UNC-Chapel Hill) and the publisher is Princeton University Press. The publisher’s description follows:

A new account of the famous site and story of the last stand of a group of Jewish rebels who held out against the Roman Empire

Two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children—the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple—reportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This dramatic event, which took place on top of Masada, a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, spawned a powerful story of Jewish resistance that came to symbolize the embattled modern State of Israel. The first extensive archaeological excavations of Masada began in the 1960s, and today the site draws visitors from around the world. And yet, because the mass suicide was recorded by only one ancient author—the Jewish historian Josephus—some scholars question if the event ever took place.

Jodi Magness, an archaeologist who has excavated at Masada, explains what happened there, how we know it, and how recent developments might change understandings of the story. Incorporating the latest findings, she integrates literary and historical sources to show what life was like for Jews under Roman rule during an era that witnessed the reign of Herod and Jesus’s ministry and death.

Featuring numerous illustrations, this is an engaging exploration of an ancient story that continues to grip the imagination today.

The Destruction of the Temple

Quite apart from theological meanings, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD had major political implications for Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire. For Jews, it signaled the beginning of the Diaspora and the end of statehood for the next 2000 years. For Christians, the destruction of the temple, and the Jewish rebellion more generally, created an opportunity to draw a distinction between themselves and Jews and declare their political loyalty to the emperor, themes that appear repeatedly in the New Testament.

A new book from Yale, The Temple in Early Christianity: Experiencing the Sacred, explores the meaning for early Christians of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The author is Eyal Regev (Bar-Ilan). Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A comprehensive treatment of the early Christian approaches to the Temple and its role in shaping Jewish and Christian identity.

The first scholarly work to trace the Temple throughout the entire New Testament, this study examines Jewish and Christian attitudes toward the Temple in the first century and provides both Jews and Christians with a better understanding of their respective faiths and how they grow out of this ancient institution. The centrality of the Temple in New Testament writing reveals the authors’ negotiations with the institutional and symbolic center of Judaism as they worked to form their own religion.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web: