The Dead Sea Scrolls
The first of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered at Qumran in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd. Following this find, many other scrolls as well as fragments of scrolls were found in the nearby caves. Due to the close proximity of the caves containing the scrolls to the ruins of an ancient village, many scholars believe that the Dead Sea Scrolls belonged to this community. Those that wrote the scrolls were evidently an apocalyptic sect of Judaism that left Jerusalem and the Temple practices. They anticipated a battle between the forces of good and evil, they themselves being on the side of good. As they are the oldest Jewish texts ever discovered, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been invaluable to scholars of Judaism in the Second Temple period.
The Book of Isaiah was the most well preserved of all the Biblical texts found at Qumran. This text was apparently highly valued by the Qumran community, as two full Isaiah scrolls and dozens of fragments of other Isaiah scrolls were found. In fact, the community may have seen themselves as following the text by going into the desert and preparing for God, as stated in Isaiah 40:3. Many scholars believe that only the Pentateuch would have been canon at the time, and thus there would have been many different versions of texts such as Isaiah. This would explain the apparent differences from the Isaiah scrolls found at Qumran with later versions. In addition to the differing versions of Isaiah, other books such as 1 Enoch were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This has led scholars to conclude that these books, which never became part of the Jewish canon in the second century CE, were regarded by the Qumran community as authoritative. One of the Isaiah scrolls, along with many of the other Dead Sea Scrolls, can now be seen at the Israel Museum.
In the legal case Yemini v. Great Rabbinical Court, there was controversy over the Supreme Court’s decision to rule in favour of the Spouses (Property Relations) Law of 1973. This law states that the division of property should be done equally between spouses unless there is consent to opt for religious law. By law, even the religious courts are support to abide by the Equal Rights of Women Law. However, the rabbinical courts see this ruling as going against religious laws, and thus refuse to enact it.
While married, the spouses opted to settle financial disputes according to the Rabbinical Court, yet did not agree to apply religious law. Since it is the jurisdiction of the Rabbinical Court, they claim that religious law should apply. This was rejected by the Supreme Court, and a legal battle ensued. But since the religious courts are dependent on the legal powers granted to them by the Knesset, they are subject to the laws of the Knesset which in turn is interpreted by the Supreme Court. But from the point of view of the religious courts, their authority derives from before the state was founded.
The problem, in Israel as well as other nations such as India, results from laws pertaining to the family being left to the religious communities. This creates a conflict with women’s rights, as those issues regarding women in the family are deemed a private matter. Since family matters are considered private, it is under the jurisdiction of the Rabbinical Court. Financial matters, however, are under the jurisdiction of the civil court.
The same issue occurs within the courts of other religious groups. For example, many Muslim religious courts decide to favour shari’a law. Because of this, conflicts emerge similar to that of the Yemini case. The current decision of the Supreme Court is to declare the decision of religious courts illegal if they do not obey the Women’s Equal Rights Law.
This is only one of the more recent occurrences in which the Supreme Court and the religious courts have come into conflict.