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Balaniyot, Baths and Beyond

Israel’s State-Run Ritual Baths and the Rights of Women

Nahshon Perez and Elisheva Rosman-Stollman

Ritual immersion in Israel has become a major point of contention between Israeli-Jewish women and the state-funded Chief Rabbinate of Israel. In order to conduct a religious household, Orthodox Jewish women are required to immerse in a ritual bath (mikveh) approximately once a month. However, in Israel, these are strictly regulated and managed by the Chief Rabbinate, which habitually interferes with women’s autonomy when immersing. The article presents the case, then moves to discuss two models of religion-state relations: privatization and evenhandedness (roughly the modern version of nonpreferentialism), as two democratic models that can be adopted by the state in order to properly manage religious services, ritual baths included. The discussion also delineates the general lessons that can be learned from this contextual exploration, pointing to the advantages of the privatization model, and to the complexities involved in any evenhanded approach beyond the specific case at hand.

Mikhail Antonov

This paper analyzes the cultural constraints imposed in the Russian legal system by the prevailing social philosophy, which is characterized by a significant degree of religious conservatism and communitarianism. This conservatism is predictably opposed to sexual minorities and to those who want to defend or justify them. The author concludes that this philosophy strongly affects decision-making in Russian courts, and can sometimes overrule the provisions of the Russian Constitution and the laws that formally grant protection to sexual minorities. In turn, this conservative social philosophy and communitarian morality are based on religious patterns that are still shaping the mindsets and attitudes of Russians. These attitudes cannot be ignored by judges and other actors in the Russian legal system, who to some extent are subject to the general perception of what is just, acceptable, and reasonable in society, and are factually bound by this perception.

Anicée Van Engeland

According to some interpretations of Islam supported by gender activists, the veil can be perceived as a passport that enables women to participate in public affairs. This argument has been overlooked by the courts, including the European Court of Human Rights. The latter has adopted a discourse that considers the veil to be a threat to public order and gender equality, and more recently, an obstacle to social cohesion. By doing so, the Court has excluded veiled European Muslim women from the public sphere. The Court has justified curbing freedom of religion by granting states a wide margin of appreciation on the basis of the concept of “living together.” I argue that the Court needs to take the “passport veil” into account to be consistent with its argument on living together. A shift of approach and discourse would constitute a new way of understanding integration through the veil.