If you follow the news from Israel, you know that late last month the Knesset passed a bill that prohibits the courts from overturning government decisions on the grounds that they lack “reasonableness.” At first glance this bill itself seems to make sense. As its proponents point out, why should unelected judges be allowed to override decisions made by the elected government by substituting their judgment about what is reasonable for that of the government?
While on the surface this is an attractive argument, it is worth pointing out that “reasonableness” is deeply embedded in American law as well. The Fourth Amendment protects us from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Who decides that a search is unreasonable? The courts. I suspect it is fair to conclude that if the question of what search is reasonable or not was left solely to the police, we would see a lot more searches and feel a lot less secure in our homes and persons. In contractual disputes, the courts often ask how a “reasonable person” would understand the language in question. And of course the standard necessary for a criminal conviction is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Right after the new law was passed, there were several appeals to the Supreme Court against the law. (It is important to note that the Supreme Court of Israel has two names and two different functions. As the Supreme Court (Bet Mishpat Elyon) it is the final court of appeals. But sitting as the High Court of Justice (Bet HaMishpat HaGavoha LaTzedek) it has original jurisdiction in cases about violations of basic rights.) The court has 15 justices but a case is heard by a panel of three or more justices. But the appeals against the new “Reasonableness Law” will be heard in mid-September by the entire court of 15 justices -- something unprecedented in Israeli history. Prime Minister Netanyahu has declined to promise that the government will abide by the Court’s decision if the law is struck down.
There is a worthwhile article in Tablet Magazine about reasonableness and its meaning and history in Israeli law. Tablet is generally a right-leaning publication but the author, Warren Zev Harvey, a professor emeritus of Jewish thought at the Hebrew University, has severe doubts about the wisdom of this new law.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian