|“Conversion Before the Law: Why Conversion Debates in Israel are not Necessarily about Religious Freedom”
A Talk by Leora Batnitzky (Princeton University)
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 | 05:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Humanities Gateway 1010, UC Irvine
Save the date, on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 for this upcoming talk by Leora Batnitzky (Princeton University).
Those who claim that Israel’s twin commitments to be a Jewish and a democratic state are irreconcilable often assume that Judaism is a religion and that religion in a democratic order is a matter of private conviction and not national identity; hence the apparent contradiction. Yet in proclaiming Israel a Jewish state with the guarantee of freedom of religion and conscience for all of its citizens, Israel’s Declaration of Independence affirms the second assumption, but not the first. This may seem obvious enough in the context of the history of political Zionism and the state’s secular founding. But even in the case of religious Zionism the Jewish character of the state does not by definition conflict with democratic ideals. To make this point, this paper considers the vexed issue of religious conversion in Israel.
Since state sponsored definitions of conversion are used to grant or deny benefits to citizens, the Israeli Rabbinate’s right to define the parameters of Jewish membership cannot be defended on the basis of the liberal ideal of freedom of association. Contemporary controversies over conversion in Israel would thus seem to epitomize the purported contradiction at the heart of Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature. Yet for religious Zionists, as much as for secular Zionists, Judaism is not a religion based on personal faith but rather a national collective. For this reason, this paper argues that the problem of conversion in Israel ought not be conceptualized in terms of contemporary debates about religious freedom but rather terms in terms of naturalization. Understanding national controversies about conversion in Israel within this framework allows us to evaluate these controversies from both the perspective of debates about democratic ideals as well as from internal historical arguments within the Jewish tradition about conversion. The paper’s conclusion considers the implications of Israel’s recent Nation-State Law, passed by the Knesset in July 2018, for thinking about the relation between religion and democracy in Israel today.
Leora Batnitzky is Ronald O. Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor and Chair of Religion at Princeton University. Her teaching and research interests include philosophy of religion, modern Jewish thought, hermeneutics, and contemporary legal and political theory. She is the author of three books: Idolatry and Representation: The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig Reconsidered (Princeton UP, 2000); Leo Strauss and Emmanuel Levinas: Philosophy and the Politics of Revelation (Cambridge UP, 2006) and How Judaism Become a Religion (Princeton UP, 2011) and the editor of three books: The Book of Job: Aesthetics, Ethics and Hermeneutics (de Gruyter, 2014); Institutionalizing Rights and Religion: Competing Supremacies (Cambridge UP, 2018) and most recently of the anthology Jewish Legal Theories, for the Brandeis Library of Modern Jewish Thought (2018). Her current book project, tentatively titled “What is Religious Freedom? Conversion Controversies in Israel and India,” argues for the relevance of conversion controversies in Israel and India for thinking about the meanings of religious freedom in the United States and the international arena more broadly. She is also working on a book on twentieth-century Jewish apostates.
This event is presented by UCI Center for Jewish Studies.
This event is free and open to the public. No registration is required.
Parking at UCI
Closest parking structures are Mesa Parking Structure and/or Student Center Parking Structure. Parking permits are required at all time at UC Irvine’s campus and daily or hourly permits could be purchased from manned or automated kiosks in the parking structures. Parking is $2/hour or $10/day. The location of this event is in Humanities Gateway building (4100 Humanities Gateway, Irvine, CA 92696), room HG 1010.