Identity, though deeply personal, has often been exploited by the ruling class in order to gain power over their subjects. The preservation of social cleavages—be they national, ethnic, racial, religious, et cetera—is thus a matter of public policy. To ensure the propagation of a certain identity, the state must rely on its current citizens to reproduce the social structures that give their identities value. In order to maintain boundaries between the factions, groups must remain “pure” lest these structures be challenged. While prohibitions on whom an individual can marry exist across systems, they take on different, more subtle forms in the modern era. In the Middle East, legal approaches to marriage often emulate the millet system of the Ottoman Empire, in which religious communities have jurisdiction over their adherents in affairs relating to personal status. Using Israel as a case study, this paper explores the careful negotiation that occurs when a legal system attempts to incorporate religious law into civil law, which naturally presents both practical and ideological challenges. A country less than a century old, Israel is home to a complex social hierarchy of various ethnic and religious groups, a social hierarchy in which one’s ethnic or religious identification is often cross-cutting with his socioeconomic status, level of education, and presumed loyalty to the state. It is also a social hierarchy that despite—or maybe because—of its complexities is quite rigid. Due to the state’s delegation of personal status to the religious courts, the religious demographics of the state, and the fact that all of Israel’s religious authorities have prohibitions against marrying a member of another faith, interfaith marriage remains an impossibility for most, with even informal recognition being difficult to obtain. Israel has capitalized on the forced segregation imposed by the millet system and used as means of demographic regulations, despite its infringement on the right to choose one’s own romantic partner.


Law Department

Degree Name

MA in International Human Rights Law

Graduation Date

Fall 11-11-2020

Submission Date

November 2020

First Advisor

Sayed, Hani

Second Advisor


Third Advisor


Committee Member 1

Beckett, Jason

Committee Member 2

Skouteris, Thomas

Committee Member 3



66 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

International Human Rights Law


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Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Not necessary for this item

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