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This article pursues an immanent critique of a scholarly movement and mood that I call “the new genealogy of religious freedom” and sketches an alternative proposal. The new genealogy of religious freedom claims that religious freedom is incoherent, systemically biased, oppressive, ideological—and necessarily so. Its critique deploys a methodology inherited from Nietzsche and targets a vision of religious freedom associated with “foundationalists” like Kant and Rawls. This article calls both the methodology and the vision into question. The version of genealogy that this movement promotes proves self-destructive and incoherent, veering toward nihilism and unable to account for its own status as critique. Its attack on foundationalist religious freedom is effective, but it presupposes—and targets—conceptions of freedom, neutrality, and power that we need not endorse. For foundationalists and genealogists alike, these assumptions define religious freedom. This article rejects those assumptions and that vision of religious freedom. It sketches a pragmatist, dialectical vision of religious freedom rooted in alternate conceptions of power, freedom, and neutrality and a corresponding strategy for legally defining “religion,” inheriting the strengths of genealogy and foundationalism while avoiding their weaknesses.
In liberal democracies with religiously diverse populations, it would be surprising and troubling if a judge relied on a religious text or precept to resolve a legal dispute. It would deeply offend principles of religious freedom if individuals were bound by judicial pronouncement to obey the dictates of a faith they do not share. However, some commentators have long claimed that a person's cultural worldview has an impact on the way they interpret laws and facts, and there is some empirical support for this claim. There is thus reason to expect that judges’ worldviews have some effect on their decision-making. I argue that when judges deliberately avoid engaging with their own moral perspectives, they may mask to themselves the impact that such perspectives have on their decisions. The alternative of explicit reference to religious sources in judicial decisions, however, is too problematic for the religious freedom of legal subjects. I argue that judges should instead endeavor to be conscious of the influence their backgrounds have on their decision-making, but suggest that judicial institutions may be resistant to adopting practices that would support such an approach. The article draws on Canadian and American case law to demonstrate its argument but has wider applicability to liberal states.
Rabbinical courts in Israel serve as official courts of the state, and state law provides that a Jewish couple can obtain a divorce only in these courts, and only strictly according to Jewish law. By contrast, in the Western world, especially the United States, which has the largest concentration of Jews outside of Israel, the Jewish halakha is not a matter of state law, and rabbinical courts have no official status. This article examines critically the common argument that for a Jew committed to the halakha, and in particular for a Jewish woman who wants to divorce her husband, a state-sponsored halakhic system is preferable to a voluntary one. This argument is considered in light of the main tool that has been proven to help American Jewish women who wish to obtain a halakhic divorce from husbands refusing to grant it: the prenuptial agreement. Many Jewish couples in the United States sign such an agreement, but only a few couples in Israel do so, primarily because of the opposition of the rabbinical courts in Israel to these agreements. The article examines the causes of this resistance, and offers reasons for the distinction that exists between the United States and Israel. It turns out that social and legal reality affect halakhic considerations, to the point where rabbis claim that what the halakha allows in the United States it prohibits in Israel. The last part of the article uses examples from the past to examine the possibility that social change in Israel will affect the rulings of rabbinical courts on this issue.
The Jewish marriage differs from the Catholic Christian marriage, which is an institution surrounded by the halo of a holy sacrament that cannot be nullified. It also differs from the Islamic marriage, which is closer to a legal agreement than to a sacrament, wherein the husband alone may annul the marriage, either unilaterally or by mutual consent. This is especially true of the Shi'ite marriage—the muta—which may be annulled without any divorce proceedings at a predetermined date. In this article, I present a little-known possible halakhic stipulation: temporary marriage. I consider its roots and the different applications in Talmudic sources. An example of the Babylonian application of this conditional marriage is the cry by important Babylonian amoraim, “Who will be mine for a day?” In this unique case, some of the halakhic authorities rule that there is no necessity for a get in order to terminate the marriage. I consider the early halakhic rulings on these cases and the modern version of this stipulation, which was also rejected by modern halakhic authorities. I also offer a comparative study of a possible parallel to the marriage for a predetermined period, the Shi'ite temporary marriage, which is intentionally restricted to an agreed period of time and does not require divorce to annul it. I conclude my discussion by revealing the possible common roots for the Jewish temporary marriage and the Shi'ite temporary marriage in ancient Persian law.