Questions of religion and state have been on the agenda throughout the history of the State of Israel. Does Israel have to be a Jewish state in order to be a state for the Jews? What precisely is a Jewish state? Which aspects of the state' character and laws should be derived from Jewish religious tradition and which from modern western norms? How do the principles of European enlightenment apply to a state in which a significant sector of the population abides by rabbinic law, and privileges it over secular authority? Should Jews be entitled to automatic citizenship when they immigrate to Israel? Who determines who is a Jew? What are the relevant criteria?
These issues have been the focus of discourse and ideological debate for many years, the repercussion of which exceed the merely theoretical. Judaism's character as a religion of law, which dictates all aspects of the individual's life, gives rise to a series of tensions that have highly practical implications.
If the state requires mandatory education, how does this affect the children of observant Jews? If the state requires compulsory military service, does this apply to religious women? Will yeshiva students from sects that oppose the existence of the state also be drafted? How will the state handle the Sabbath and festivals? Will trade, public events and sports be permitted on the Sabbath? How will official representatives of the state behave with regard to observance of the Sabbath and dietary laws? Many questions of this nature, in various permutations, have occupied Israeli society over the years. More than a few have evolved into political issues. Since the inception of the Knesset, it has included representation of various religious sectors. Hence, almost every issue related to Jewish affairs or religious obligations is discussed in parliament and thus rendered political. The question of religion and state is inextricably interwoven with the mechanisms of the state. Some of the issues are resolved, perhaps temporarily, but new ones are continually arising, and old ones being revisited. Some constitute major electoral issues.