A ruling of historic proportions

This is huge.

After brief deliberations on the eve of last week’s Rosh Hashanah holiday, a Tel Aviv judge ruled that Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk could register his official religious status as “without religion.”

“Freedom from religion is a freedom derived from the right to human dignity, which is protected by the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom,” Judge Gideon Ginat of the Tel Aviv District Court wrote in his unusual ruling.  

“This is a ruling of historic proportions,” Kaniuk said to Haaretz yesterday, with audible emotion. “The court granted legitimacy to every person to live by their conscience in this land, in ruling that human dignity and freedom means a person can determine their own identity and definition. In this way I can be without religion but Jewish by nationality. I am so thrilled,” Kaniuk said.

In May Kaniuk asked the court to order the Interior Ministry to allow him “to be liberated from the Jewish religion” by changing his “religion” entry in the Population Registry from “Jewish” to “without religion.” The ministry had refused his earlier request.

In his petition, Kaniuk explained that he had no wish to be part of a “Jewish Iran” or to belong to “what is today called the religion of Israel.”

A historic step. Well done Judge Ginat.


  1. binjabreel says

    Holy crap, that is huge.

    I’ve got a few Israeli friends whose numbers I think I might need to go track down now, to find out what they think.

  2. Stewart says

    Filled in the blank in my memory about the last famous such case in Israel (unsuccessful): George Tamarin, whose psychological experiment with children is mentioned by Dawkins in TGD.

  3. John Morales says


    I’m reminded of this piece which I recently read via our national broadcaster in Oz: Make no mistake, Israel’s existence is under threat.

    Whether linkage is merited is, of course, disputable.

    [fair use pullquotes]

    Secular Israelis work, pay taxes, and serve in the army. Ultra-orthodox, or Haredi Jews, don’t.


    Not surprisingly, it’s a pretty sore point. Especially as the demographic balance is shifting fast.

    Secular couples have, on average, around two children per couple. Haredi couples have closer to eight or nine.

    And it’s changing the very identity of Israel – away from the secular, socialist civil society it was created as in 1948 – to something quite different.

  4. Daniel Lafave says

    I find it disappointing that Israel registers official religious affiliations at all, but it certainly is an encouraging step in the right direction that he could get his changed. The Right of Religious Conversion is a basic human right that all states ought to protect.

  5. Alain says


    The issue of religion vs. ethnicity for Jews has always been a thorny one. On the one hand there are a great number of atheist Jews (using “great” in a relative sense: there are actually very few — about 13 million? — Jews left in the world). Which is good (the atheist part). On the other hand, there is an echo of Hitler’s policies is so saying. He wanted to eradicate the Jewish “race”. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if a similar ruling could be made in, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia? (Yeah, yeah, I know all about the chances of hell freezing over…)

  6. Alain says

    Yes, John, ironic when one thinks of all the great German (and Hungarian, Polish, Russian etc.) Jews that Hitler was eager to “eradicate”. We’ll never know how many potential Nobel prizewinners (e.g., see this year’s prizewinners for Medicine) did perish in the Holocaust. And not to be too tendentious about it, but the great flowering of Jewish contributions to the arts and sciences came when they were liberated from the constraints of religion.

  7. says

    That is big.

    It appears that “without religion” was allowed to be used for his grandson (and others?) because he was not born to a Jewish Israeli mother and was a kid. But it wasn’t acceptable for Jewish people to decide for themselves as adults and declare themselves as without religion. Is this correct?

    He went on to say that he believed that the Basic Laws, which function as constitution law in Israel, and in particular the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, alleviates from the plaintiff the burden of proof in demanding to be defined as religionless.

    “The only question that must be weighed is whether the plaintiff proved the seriousness of his intentions … I see no need to impose on the plaintiff any burden with the exception of bringing his request before the court,” Ginat wrote.

    Were people arguing that he had to prove somehow that he didn’t hold Jewish religious beliefs or consider himself a member of the religion, beyond his saying that? Like what? There certainly is no need for that. Very odd.

  8. Pen says

    I am glad to hear it. I have known Israelis who have had to travel to Cyprus in order to get a non-religious wedding. Maybe that is changing too?

  9. says

    In response to my own question, it seems they were requiring some sort of public document, but I’m not sure what means. Strange.

    They’re also talking about implications for marriage law:

    The right to define oneself is a “fundamental right that should be taken for granted, without any restrictions,” Katz-Mastbaum said, adding that the ruling could now have wider implications including for civil marriage in Israel.

    Katz-Mastbaum pointed to the civil union law, initiated by Israel Beiteinu, according to which two Israelis who are defined by the state as lacking religious denomination are permitted to marry in a civil ceremony.

    Currently, the civil union law applies only to Israelis who are deemed to have never been Jewish.

    “Perhaps two people, one of whom was Jewish but who has changed to ‘no religion’ [in the population registry] would be able to marry his partner,” she said.

    What? So, as things stand, if you’ve been Jewish and publicly become an atheist, you can’t get married? I can’t be reading that right.

  10. Stewart says

    Ok, I did the research (at least a bit of it). I found this on a blog (in Hebrew: http://tomerpersico.com/2011/10/03/kaniuk/), which contained this link (http://www.knesset.gov.il/privatelaw/data/18/3/445_3_1.rtf) to the text (also Hebrew) of a law for partnership between individuals without a religion, dated 2010. The shitty bottom line is that if the individuals in question who want their partnership registered meet all the other criteria (including appearing in the population register as having no religion), the announcement of their intention is circulated to all religious authorities and if one of them claims one of the couple as its own then everything grinds to a halt. An individual still does not have the right to say that he or she does not authorise a religious body to be responsible for his or her personal affairs. A religious body does have the right not to relinquish people and the law stipulates that the religious authorities are consulted even in the cases of those registered as having no religion. Since this is no laughing matter, I’ve made it one by running the most crucial paragraph through Google Translate:

    (A) If the head of a religious court that one spouse filed an application to register a religious community is the issue of her marriage in the jurisdiction of the religious court, or he took a doubt about the belongingness of one spouse religious community in question, the matter will be resolved in court religious and the Registrar will notify the parity within 60 days of receipt of a copy of the request; informed Prime religious court noted, the marriage registrar will be staying decision please register to the religious court’s decision on under the provisions of this section.

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