A Fateful Settlement: How the Issue of Theocracy Was Avoided in Kiryas Joel

For the Public
Tuesday, December 6, 2022
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM EST

Online
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In the Satmar Village of Kiryas Joel, dissidents claimed that village officials exercise the powers of government in furtherance of religious law, in violation of both the American constitutional principle of separation between religion and state and the Satmar belief that Jews must separate themselves from worldly affairs. A judge appeared receptive to the argument that the village operates as a theocracy—until the dissidents agreed to settle out of court. That agreement, which included a strict provision obligating the parties to submit all future disputes to rabbinic rather than secular courts, quickly broke down. Yet because of the settlement, new suits alleging the village is a theocracy have never been allowed to go forward, leaving the issue unresolved.

About the “Jewish Law and the Constitution” Series

The familiar talmudic statement dina de-malkhuta dina (“the law of the kingdom is the law”) doesn’t even begin to cover the complex relationship between Judaism and state law—especially when the state itself takes account of Jewish law and religion. This series of lectures will draw out some signal characteristics of that relationship as it has evolved and unfolded in the orbit of American constitutional law. Each speaker will highlight one arena in which the American legal system has been drawn into conversation with American Jewish life and vice versa. Case by case, they tell stories of religion and politics, democracy and minorities, theory and practice: law entangled with law.

 

About the image above: Catalogue, Belcher Mosaic Glass Company (New York, 1886), Winterthur Museum Library, via publicdomainreview.org.

Featuring

Nomi Stolzenberg

University of Southern California

Nomi Stolzenberg holds the Nathan and Lily Shapell Chair at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. Her research spans a range of interdisciplinary interests, including law and religion, law and liberalism, law and feminism, law and psychoanalysis, and law and literature. She is currently working on the subject of religious liberty theory and “faith-based discrimination.”

Stolzenberg received her JD from Harvard University. She has taught at Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Columbia Law School. At the USC Gould School, she helped establish the USC Center for Law, History, and Culture, which she currently codirects.

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Cosponsors

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Klatt Family and the Harry Stern Family Foundation.