Gespräch am 16.11.2016

Omer Aloni (Tel-Aviv University):
Bigamy and polygamy in early Israeli law as a battlefield of cultural defence argumentation

In his presentation Omer Aloni examines several cases of bigamy in the early history of Israel as a junction of confronting legal, religious and ethno-cultural considerations. He discusses these challenging test cases in which the Supreme Court deliberated over the question during the formative decade of the 1950s. Furthermore, he explores how these deliberations led to a convergence of social dimensions: both among Jews of Eastern origin (Mizrahi), and also among – and in a comparative perspective – Arab-Muslims. To the Court, both of these groups presented insights into the Middle Eastern culture, traditions and mentality. Aloni suggests a new reading of the Court’s decisions.

The bigamy dilemma has occupied the former rulers of the land: both the Ottoman Empire, and the British Mandate for Palestine. History dramatically changed during the early 1950s, as the new State of Israel brought together the Arab communities and an enormous public of new Jewish immigrants, mostly strangers to the Western legal-political traditions that the Zionist founding fathers struggled to establish during the first half of the 20th century. Given this background, the law (and the Court) sometimes served as an institution and as a melting pot in which this new legal system, different traditions and varied perspectives confronted each other. In comparison to other meeting points between East and West and the world of law, the phenomenon of bigamy stands – as Aloni argues – in a unique place of its own during the Israeli legal system was literally under construction.