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Israel's Higher Law: Religion and Liberal Democracy in the Jewish State [Paperback]

Steven V. Mazie

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Book Description

April 4 2006 0739114859 978-0739114858
In Israel's Higher Law, Steven V. Mazie draws on the voices of Israeli citizens to shed new light on the relationship between liberal democracy and religion. By analyzing Israelis' perspectives on a number of divisive issues—including Jewish state symbols, marriage law, public Sabbath observance and funding for religious education—Mazie identifies a rift between Israeli and American understandings of "separation of religion and state" and a gulf between Jewish and Arab citizens' visions for Israel's religion-state arrangement. Mazie's compelling study offers more valuable insight into these dilemmas than any publication to date and proposes new guidelines for resolving them. Israel's Higher Law is the definitive work on the tensions between religion and democracy in Israel. It is a must-read for anyone interested in politics and Jewish studies.

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Review

Israel's Higher Law makes a valuable sociological contribution to the important debate about Israel's status as a Jewish and democratic state. The heart of the book lies in a series of lively interviews with a range of representative Israelis about their own interpretations of the problem. Informative and characteristic, these interviews are the next best thing to actually being on the ground and hearing Israeli voices directly. The method of addressing a problem of political theory through lay interviews is rich and innovative, producing surprising results that subvert more formalist approaches and remind us that political philosophy is alive and well as a popular vernacular practice. (Noah Feldman, New York University)

Based on extensive interviews in 2000 with thirty-one Israelis from various sectors of the society (secular, Religious Zionists, ultra-Orthodox, traditional, and Arabs), Mazie probes how ordinary Israelis see and experience various conflicts between the Judaic religion and the Israeli state. Indeed, Mazie's ample selections from these interviews give the book an engaging, animated tone, which complements nicely the author's theoretical, Rawlsian interests. (Journal of Church & State)

Can Israel be at once a Jewish and democratic state? Against a background of political theory, history, and constitutional law, Steven Mazie skillfully explores the responses of a wide range of Israelis—secular and religious, Jewish and Arab—to this core question of national identity. The results are complex, often surprising, and always illuminating. (William A. Galston)

About the Author

Steven V. Mazie is Assistant Professor of Politics at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan and has taught previously at Bard College, New York University, and the University of Michigan.

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful analysis of the Jewish state Dec 11 2007
By israelmaven - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
With the recent spate of anti-Zionist books that deny Israel's right to exist, it's refreshing to read a book that honestly and fully explores a range of questions about Israel without resorting to a critique of its very legitimacy. This kind of balance is a rare commodity today, when debates about Israel tend to be polarized and unilluminating. In contrast to most other books I've read on this subject, Israel's Higher Law sheds light, not heat.

The book is terrific not because it tracks a middle way through the minefield, but because it deals with arguments from Israelis themselves, and Israelis of all backgrounds. Mazie talks to secular Jews in Tel Aviv, Arab citizens in the Galilee and Hasidim in Mea Shearim and uses their ideas to explore a constellation of ideas about questions like marriage law, Israel's Jewish state symbols, army service exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox and public observance of Shabbat. The reader is drawn into the reasoning of each of these groups about each of these issues, and Mazie is an honest broker in letting everyone speak.

At the end of the book Mazie presents his own arguments about liberal democracy and Judaism in Israel. His discussion is useful for anyone who is both a supporter and a friendly critic of Israel. He saves us both from the post-Zionists and from those who reflexively justify everything Israel does. Everyone engaged in the debate about Israeli democracy will learn something from this book.

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