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The Legal Arm of Observant Jewry Prepared by COLPA: National Jewish Commission On Law And Public Affairs

The Legal Arm of Observant Jewry

Prepared by COLPA: National Jewish Commission On Law And Public Affairs

Any society imposes substantial pressure upon its members to conform to its norms Many of those pressures are subtle, unwritten, or even unspoken; others are codified as part of the legal system which governs the society.

Judaism, with its rich tradition of laws and customs, often finds itself at odds with the norms of contemporary society. From the seemingly mundane, such as dietary restrictions and the wearing of a "yarmulka," to the clearly profound, such as definitions of life and death, these differences can frequently cause conflict.

Since 1965, COLPA has been committed to addressing and resolving these conflicts through mediation, negotiation, and, when required, litigation, as well as through legislative initiatives. From its modest beginnings, COLPA has grown into an influential body of hundreds of attorneys, social scientists, academicians and others who share a commitment to resolving these problems within the context of the law.

COLPA has represented, without fee, thousands of individuals and institutions in appearances before federal and state courts and regulatory agencies throughout the United States. In dozens of cases and scores of amicus curiae briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court, COLPA has advocated the rights and interests of individual observant Jews and the observant Jewish community as a whole.

Each year, COLPA handles over 2,000 requests for assistance from individuals as well as schools, synagogues, and communal organizations.

Since 1965, COLPA has been responsible for the enactment of over twenty major pieces of federal and state legislation and scores of amendments and administrative regulations which have dramatically improved the "quality of life" for observant Jews throughout the United States.

As a result of its effectiveness, COLPA has achieved general recognition as the representative of the observant Jewish community on the legal and legislative fronts.


Since its establishment, COLPA has played a significant role in a number of key areas affecting Jewish life. Whether as a result of litigation or legislation, these initiatives have benefitted not only the tens of thousands of individuals and institutions involved, but the entire Jewish community.

Sabbath Observance

  • Federal, state and local laws and regulations mandating "reasonable accommodation" to the religious needs of employees
  • Litigation defending and expanding the rights of Sabbath observers
  • Federal law granting government employees the right to make up the time taken off for religious observance
  • Legislation requiring alternate dates for examinations scheduled for Saturdays and religious holy days


  • Defense of shechitah before the United States Supreme Court
  • Legislation establishing the legality and humaneness of shechitah in the United States
  • Support and assistance of consumer protection activities on behalf of kosher consumers

Family Law

  • Legislation promoting foster care and adoption placements consistent with a child's religious background
  • Legislation and litigation protecting the religious rights of children in custody of non-Jewish or non-religious parents
  • Efforts to promote the ability of Jewish women to receive a "get"

Land Use

  • Assistance to religious institutions such as synagogues, yeshivas, and mikvahs in obtaining zoning and planning variances
  • Defense of the legal right of Jewish communities to erect and maintain an "eruv"

Public Health

  • Defense of the right of parents to have a "bris milah" performed in a hospital according to religious law
  • Legislation preventing autopsies except In cases of "compelling public necessity"
  • Defense of the right of Observant Jews to be buried on Sundays and legal holidays
  • "Determination of Death" regulations requiring physicians and hospitals to accommodate the religious beliefs of patients and families


  • Defense of the rights of religious schools to tax exemptions
  • Prevention of the imposition of racial quotas on religious schools
  • Defense of the use of public funds for secular education of yeshiva and day school students
  • Defense of private religious schools against excessive regulation of their programs and activities

Public Institutions

  • Defense of the right to have one's religious needs (such as kosher foods) met while in custodial care
  • Defense of the interests of the observant Jewish community vis-a-vis the Selective Service System
  • "Yarmulka Law" guaranteeing the right to wear "neat and conservative" religious apparel while in the armed forces

Religious Institutions

  • Defense against improper regulation of fundraising activities of religious organizations
  • Efforts to insure the proper disposition of assets when synagogues cease operation
  • Defense of the tax exemptions of religious institutions
  • Defense of the enforceability of "Beth Din" decisions


The past two decades have seen a vast improvement in the quality of life of the observant Jewish community, and COLPA takes great pride in the significant role it has played in this effort.

At the same time, much remains to be accomplished. On many issues of vital importance, the battle lines have only just been drawn; the battles themselves have yet to be fought, let alone won.

With the ever increasing complexity of society, and the increasing involvement of government in the daily conduct of our lives, new issues constantly arise. All too often, scientific and technological advances bear the "price tag" of changes in societal norms and values.

Your support and participation will enable us to meet these and other complex challenges of the next decade:

  • New challenges to Sabbath Observance on the job
  • Determination of Death regulations
  • Organ transplantation and "harvesting"
  • Health care proxies and surrogates
  • Autopsy prevention
  • Defense of "eruvim" against new legal challenges
  • "Get" and "Agunah" problems
  • Custody and religious upbringing for children in divorce cases
  • Religious compatibility in foster-care and adoption placement
  • New legal challenges to government aid to Jewish education
  • Increasingly strict zoning and planning rules and their effect on Jewish institutions landmarking of religious institutions
  • Religious symbols on public property
  • Saturday entrance, school and licensing exams
  • Bris Milah in public and private hospitals
  • Religious rights of Jews in custodial care
  • Tax exemptions for religious institutions
  • Government regulation of school curricula and programs
  • Protection of assets of religious institutions

For more information about COLPA or if you need COLPA's assistance, please contact COLPA at:
    135 West 50th Street
    New York, NY 10020
    Tel: 212-641-8992
    Fax: 212-641-8197

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