Israel’s Religious Courts

By Chiara Jurczak


Israel’s religious courts are a part of the broader judiciary system of the country, and have been given jurisdiction largely over matters of family law pertaining to Israeli citizens that are considered members of their respective religions. There are four types of religious courts in Israel: Jewish rabbinical courts, Muslim sharia courts, Druze religious courts, and ecclesiastical courts of the ten recognized Christian communities. In this project, I wanted to show the inside of three out of four of these courts, to give those outside of this system a better understanding of what this system actually looks like. There are a number of legal issues that have been raised in regards to the courts and their jurisdiction, in particular in relation to the possible discriminatory effect which the rulings of a religious court may have towards secular members, women and other groups. That being said, these courts have been a part of the State of Israel since before its creation, and play a large role in shaping this democracy where separation between church and state is much less pronounced than in other Western countries. The presence of both forces is evident in this photo essay, in the different symbols and structures of the courts themselves, and it is my hope that these visuals help people see the reality of the religious courts in Israel today.

Entrance to the Muslim Sharia court of Jaffa, hidden behind a gas station. From the outside, not much official signage points to the court, and it seems hard to locate unless one knows where they are going.

Reception area of the Muslim Sharia court. All signs here are in Arabic, as it is the lingua franca of the courts.

The courtroom of the Muslim Sharia court of Jaffa. The Israeli flag and Official State Emblem of Israel, the Menorah, identify it as a state court. On each table is placed a Quran, as Sharia is the intersection of Islam and the Law. At the front of the room there is one seat for the judge, the Qadi, who will hear the case.

View of Jaffa and the Mediterranean from the balcony attached to the Muslim Sharia court. The Jaffa Sharia court will soon transition to a new building, one which they say will be in better shape than that which they are currently occupying.

Inside a meeting room of the Druze courts, which are granted separate jurisdiction from the Muslim Sharia courts. As in the Sharia court, the Israeli flag and State Emblem are visible, but so are volumes of religious legal text, showing the parallel forces at work within this court. Druze mainly live and marry amongst themselves, and the courts serve to settle most family matters within their communities and villages.

A meeting room in the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem, where the state flag stands next to a wall of books on Jewish law. Once again, law and religion intersect in this milieu.

Inside a courtroom of the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem. At the front, three seats are placed for the three judges who preside over each case. As in the other courts, the state emblem and flag are present. The room is quite small, giving it a very close and personal feel.

In the hallway leading to the various courtrooms of the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem. This court was much larger and more equipped than the other two courts we had visited, reflecting the need for them in adjudicating the family life of the majority Jewish population of the state. For instance, only the rabbinical courts can currently marry or divorce two Jews in the state of Israel.

Recommended Reading

Consulate General of Israel in Montreal. “THE STATE: Judiciary: The Court System.”, 2022, x.

Hacker, Daphna. “Religious Tribunals in Democratic States: Lessons from the Israeli Rabbinical Courts.” Journal of Law and Religion, vol. 27, no. 1, 2012, pp. 59–81.

Ministry of Justice. “The Sharia Courts: About.”, 2019.

Robinson, Kali. “Understanding Sharia: The Intersection of Islam and the Law.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, Dec. 2021.