Last updated on: 5/19/2009 9:34:00 AM PST

Is Judaism Compatible with the Concept of the Separation of Religion and State?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Susan Hattis Rolef, PhD, Senior Researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center, in an e-mail response to on June 19, 2006, wrote:

"The answer to the question as to whether Judaism is compatible with the concept of the separation of Church and State (or rather: religion and state), is similar to that given to the question whether Judaism is compatible with democracy. Again, Judaism, as such, has no position.

The ultra Orthodox streams in Judaism have the greatest difficulty accepting the concept when it comes to a state that defines itself as Jewish - i.e. Israel (they have no problem with the separation of religion and state in non-Jewish states), while the liberal Reform and Conservative streams have less of a problem with the concept, even though in Israel neither of these streams is officially recognized by the State. The most extreme ultra Orthodox streams - Neturei Karta and the Satmer Hassidim, simply do not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and do not feel a part of it, so as far as they are concerned there is a complete separation between the Judaism which they practice, and the State of Israel.

It should be noted that secular Jews in Israel view the concept of the Jewish State as the State of the Jews, not a state which is run according to the Halacha. The visionary of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, advocated a Judenstaat (state of Jews), not a Jüdische Staat (Jewish state)."

June 19, 2006 - Susan Hattis Rolef, PhD 

Bernard Lewis, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, in his 2004 book Islam and the West, wrote:

"Judaism was associated with the state in antiquity and was then forcibly disentangled from it; its new encounter with the state at the present time, in Israel, has raised problems that are still unresolved."

2004 - Bernard Lewis, PhD 

Leonard Swidler, PhD, Professor of Catholic Thought & Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University, in a Feb. 29, 1996 lecture given at Oklahoma City University titled "The Intimate Intertwining of Business, Religion and Dialogue," said:

"In the contemporary mind of the masses, the union of religion and state position appears to be represented by Islam, the separation position by Christianity, and an ambiguous in-between by Judaism in the example of Israel."

Feb. 29, 1996 - Leonard Swidler, PhD 

PRO (yes)

Shimon Cowen, PhD, Rabbi and Director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilization, in a Mar. - Apr. 2009 article titled, "The Noahide Laws, Israel and Peace," from the Bulletin in the Noahide Laws, based on his 1999 article, "Israel: State and Religion - Part I & II, a Discussion" from the Journal of Judaism and Civilization, wrote:

"It was in the State of Israel, that the partial restoration of Jewish communal-spiritual life (short of the redemptive ideal) could be attempted on a national scale... If the hope... that 'Torah Law' would become the law of the state, were not fulfilled, then the state still allowed individuals to go [to] Rabbinic courts for resolutions of civil matters. The secular founders of the state were prepared to give sole jurisdiction in matters of marriage and divorce to religious courts as seen in a law of the Knesset in 1953. They upheld the dietary laws -Kashrus- in an official manner, as for example in the armed forces, and made major acknowledgement of Shabbos observance with regard to public transportation... The Jewish festivals were similarly public holidays... One is strongly led to describe this historical relationship of Judaism and the State of Israel as more than accomodation. It is as though at a level, somewhere between the tacit and the explicit, there was an agreement on public implementation of halachic structures protecting the spiritual body of the Jewish people, whilst religion respected the secular arraements of the state by virtue of the principle of dina d'malchusa dina [the law of the land (host) is law]."

Mar. - Apr. 2009 - Shimon Cowen, PhD 

David Ben-Gurion, first Israeli Prime Minister, in a 1958 letter titled "Ben Gurion's Letter on Law of Return," from the Prime Minister's Office, wrote:

"In keeping with the accepted tradition among all circles of Jewry, Orthodox and non-Orthodox of all trends, and with the special conditions of Israel, as a sovereign Jewish state in which freedom of conscience and religion is guaranteed... marriages and divorces are conducted in Israel only according to the religious laws and by religious ceremonies; and according to the existing law marriages and divorces of Jews are held in Israel only according to Jewish religious law... The Principle of freedom of conscience and religion has been guaranteed in Israel both in the Proclamation of Independence and in the Basic Principles of the governments that have held office until now, which have included both 'Religious' and 'Secular' parties. All religious or anti-religious coercion is forbidden in Israel, and a Jew is entitled to be either religious or non-religious..."

1958 - David Ben-Gurion 

CON (no)

Paul Eidelberg, PhD, President and Co-founder of the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy in the Middle East, in a Jan. 1, 2002 article titled "What Is a Jewish State?," posted on his organization's website, stated:

"Judaism rejects the notion of the sovereign state. The Seven Noahide Laws of Universal Morality are higher than the laws of any state... The highest purpose of the state—if it is democratic—is simply to maximize comfort and security. This, needless to say, is not the quintessential purpose of Judaism. The purpose of Judaism is built into its very name, Yehuda, which means to praise God... To praise God means to teach about His Torah, His ways, His infinite wisdom, power, and graciousness in every domain of existence. The Nation of Israel was created for this purpose only."

Jan. 1, 2002 - Paul Eidelberg, PhD 

Shlomo Sharan, PhD, Professor Emeritus in Educational and Organizational Psychology at the School of Education in Tel Aviv University, in an Apr. 2004 essay titled "State and Religion in Israel Why the Separation of State and Religion is Inappropriate for Israel" from Nativ, A Journal of Politics and the Arts website, wrote:

"One of the reasons why separation of state and religion is inappropriate for that the Separation of state and religion would not eradicate the antagonism between the two militant poles, secularist and Haredi, of Israeli society. That conflict can be alleviated only through a long process of political compromise and visionary leadership... Israel Jewry is urged to undertake a profound reconstruction of its cultural-religious life. The goals are to promote a higher level of awareness regarding Jewry’s historical-religious heritage among Israel’s Jewish citizens, and to make it possible for all major Jewish subgroups, that are devoted to promoting Jewish historical continuity, to identify with the State of Israel."

Apr. 2004 - Shlomo Sharan, PhD