Home » Israel’s Judicial Reformation: From a Democracy to a Religious Dictatorship

Israel’s Judicial Reformation: From a Democracy to a Religious Dictatorship

by Dr. Eitan Bar
7 minutes read

What happened?

On Monday, July 24th, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset (120 seats), passed the contentious “reasonableness” bill in a unanimous vote of 64-0. This milestone marks the first significant legislative action in the government’s plan to minimize the judiciary’s power despite half a year of widespread protests and opposition from the United States and Europe, alerting Israel may no longer stay a real democracy. This new law represents the most substantial upheaval of Israel’s court system since the establishment of the state.

Members of the governing coalition universally supported the bill, leading to its passage. In a striking act of dissent, all members of the opposition chose to leave the chamber during the roll call vote, highlighting the deep divisions this legislative move has sparked within the Knesset.


The “reasonableness test” is used by the court to review governmental decisions. The court has the authority to nullify decisions in extreme cases, for example, if the decision was made based on irrelevant considerations without giving due weight to relevant factors. The goal of the test is to ensure that the government doesn’t act in a manner that is unequal, irrational, biased, or conflicted. The Supreme Court employs the reasonableness test only in exceptional cases.

On July 24, 2023, the Knesset approved the abolition of the reasonableness test with a majority of 64 supporters and no opponents. This effectively removed the court’s authority to nullify decisions made by elected officials, even if those decisions were extremely unreasonable.

For those protesting against the reformation, the High Court of Justice is the bastion or a strong fortress protecting our democracy. In Israel’s unicameral parliamentary system, a government’s survival depends upon its ability to command a majority in the Knesset. With the executive branch’s dominance over the legislature, the independent judiciary is viewed as the only national institution capable of applying real checks and balances, stopping extremists from taking Israel into extreme places.

For instance, in 2007, our Supreme Court decreed that the government’s decision not to protect schools in Sderot against missiles despite their proximity to Gaza was not a reasonable decision and overruled it, demanding turning all classes missiles-proof.

Who is behind this reformation?

The current government, widely dominant by religious/orthodox parties, wishes to take away the Supreme Court’s power as part of their vision to replace Israel’s democracy with a religious dictatorship ruled by them, the Pharisees of the Oral Law, under the Halachitic Law (parallel to the Islamic Sharia law).

The most noteworthy aspect of this new law is the nature of the individuals who now wield significant control in the Knesset. It is controlled by a group of religious Orthodox Jews whose belief system derives from the New Testament’s Pharisees. The Pharisees, or rabbinic Sages, known in the Talmudic era for their stringent and rigid adherence to rabbinic law or “Halacha,” had always aspired to political power. Now, they are about to receive it effectively.

While opponents of the law warn it might lead to a dictatorship, proponents argue this is a chance to establish Israel as a Halachic state where Jewish religious law governs. In the vision of this new reality, the Orthodox rabbis will play the role of judges and lawmakers in both religious and secular matters and will eventually have the authority—behind the stages—to establish the rabbinic Halacha.

Why is it bad?

Canceling a democracy is a grave action that undermines the fundamental principles of freedom, equality, and the rule of law, essential for a just and functioning society. In a democracy, power is distributed among the people, allowing for a diverse range of voices to be heard and interests to be represented. Scrapping this system effectively silences citizens, concentrates power in the hands of a few, and erodes accountability. The absence of democratic checks and balances (by taking away power from the Supreme Court) can lead to authoritarian rule, human rights abuses, and a lack of recourse for injustices. It diminishes the social contract and trust between the government and its people, often leading to social unrest, economic instability, and, in extreme cases, civil conflict or war.

But for me, above all, if a religious Jewish Sanhedrin were to be established in Israel and it overpowered our Supreme Court, it would mean that Christians could face heavy persecution again, and sharing the Gospel would become illegal. Essentially, a Jewish religious Sanhedrin would “re-crucify” Yeshua.

What does rabbinic (Halakha) law look like?

In Judaism, the Jewish rabbis hold spiritual power akin to that of the Catholic Pope. They achieved this by teaching that the Oral Law, which they propagated, had existed forever. According to their teachings, the Oral Law was not only handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai but was also known and followed by Abraham[i] and Isaac,[ii] a claim that raises several logical and theological contradictions.[1] Furthermore, they asserted that God Himself sits and recites the Oral Torah[iii] in his Beth Midrash (school)[iv] just like any other Yeshiva student whose primary focus was the study of the Talmud.

The sages gained enormous power and influence through such declarations, enabling them to reshape Judaism. They issued statements like “the words of the sages are better than those of the Written Law”[v] and “stricter are the words of the sages than those of the prophets,” arguing that while the Written Law contained both prohibitions and permissions, the words of the sages were universally strict. Moreover, Rabbi Akiva expounded that Jews must be in awe of God and the sages alike. [vi]

The rabbis slowly began to equate their status with that of God.[vii] They claimed authority, becoming the new kings of Israel: “Who is my king? My rabbi!”[viii] Every student was ordered to “respect his rabbi more than his father,” [ix] to “obey the words of the sages,”[x] and to “drink in their words with thirst.”[xi] Challenging them was not an option either, as “anyone disobeying the words of the sages must be put to death,”[xii] and “anyone who mocks the words of the Sages will be sentenced to boiling excrement”[xiii] in the afterlife.

The prospect of becoming a Halachic state also brings to mind another Talmudic quote: “The law of the land is the law” (Bava Kamma 113a). Historically, this has been interpreted to mean that Jews are obliged to respect the secular law of the land they inhabit. However, in the context of Israel becoming a Halachic state, this principle might take on a new meaning – that the land’s law itself could become synonymous with Halacha.

Critics worry that these changes might compromise democratic values and undermine the rights of non-Orthodox Jewish citizens and non-Jewish minorities. But supporters argue that it is a chance for Israel to fully embrace its Jewish (rabbinic) identity and religious heritage.

While it is too early to definitively assess the long-term ramifications of this monumental change, one fact remains clear: a new chapter in Israeli history has begun. Israel, as we know it, has transformed from being a liberal state and only time will tell how governance by religious authorities will shape its future. The question now on everyone’s mind is whether we are witnessing the onset of a period reminiscent of Iran, where religious authorities exert extensive influence over state affairs.

You can learn more about rabbinic Judaism in my books, “Rabbinic Judaism Debunked: Debunking the Myth of Rabbinic Oral Law& “The New Kings of Israel: A Theological Survey and Critique of Rabbinic Judaism.”

I also invite you to join me in a 30-day prayer for Israel through this guide!

[1] I expand on these contradictions in “The New Kings of Israel: A Theological Survey and Critique of Rabbinic Judaism.”

[i]  Yomma 28b.

[ii]  Midrash Tanna Debei Eliyahu, Chapter 6, p. 65; Leviticus Raba says that Jacob, Judah and Joseph fulfilled “what is written in the Torah” (Parasha B10) and that Jacob sat in two schools (Genesis Raba, Toldot 10); Moses had a Beth Midrash of his own (Yerushalmi Eruvin 32b; Chapter 5, Oral Law 1); Joshua Bin Nun was chastised by an angel of God for daring to go to war and thus setting aside the study of Torah (Bavli, Megilla 3a); and King David, as he studied in a Yeshiva, “He would not sit upon pillows and cushions. Rather, he would sit on the ground” and “When David would sit and occupy himself with Torah, he would make himself soft as a worm, and when he would go out to war, he would make himself hard and strong as a tree” (Moed Katan 16b). By the way, Our Sages also believed that “The first man, Adam, knew the Torah and handed it down to his son Seth, followed by Hanoch, until it was given to Shem, who was busy with it” (Rabbi Meir Ben Gabbi, Avodat HaKodesh, Part 3, Chapter 21). Even relating to Betzalel Ben Uri it was said that “the spirit of God filled him with wisdom – as he was a Torah scholar, with intelligence – as he understood the Oral Law, and with knowledge – as his mind was filled with the Talmud” (Midrash Tanchuma, Exodus, Vayekahel, Chapter 5).

[iii] Avodah Zarah 3b; and Midrash Eliyahu Zuta, Chapter 20.

[iv]  Midrash Tanna Debei Eliyahu, Chapter 3, p. 25

[v]  Yerushalmi, Berakhot 8b.

[vi]  Pessachim 22b. They must be greatly feared as for “their bite is the bite of a fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals” (Mishnah, Avot 2:13).

[vii]  As written: “Awe of your rabbi is like awe of the heavens” (ibid, 4:15).

[viii] עדין שטיינזלץ, מדריך לתלמוד, 2002:26. The waning status of the Priests is evident from the Talmudic phrase: “If a wise student was a bastard and a great Priest an ignoramus, the bastard wise student shall precede the ignoramus Priest” (Yerushalmi, Horayot 18b, Chapter 3, Oral Law 5; Bavli, Horayot 13a). For rabbis, the Oral Law is “Greater is learning Torah than the priesthood and than royalty” (Mishnah, Avot 6:6).

[ix] These relations were also maintained in the Middle Ages, as evident in the words of Maimonides: “There is no greater respect than that granted the rabbi (Mishneh Torah, Talmud Torah Laws, Chapter 5b)

[x] Yevamot 20a

[xi] Avot 1:4

[xii]  Eruvin 21b.

[xiii] Gittin 57a

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist