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The Status Quo Agreement

The Status-Quo Agreement, initially established through a letter on the 19th of June 1947, was an understanding reached with religious parties prior to the formation of the State of Israel.

In this letter addressed to the Agudat Israel Party, Ben-Gurion (chairman of the Jewish Agency), Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon, and Yitzhak Greenboim outlined the protection of specific Jewish laws in the future state.

The agreement ensured the observance of Shabbat, adherence to Jewish dietary laws (Kashrut), maintenance of family laws such as marriage and divorce under rabbinical courts, and the autonomy of Orthodox Jews to educate their own according to their beliefs, as all Jews.

Ben-Gurion also guaranteed that the State would respect the religious philosophy and conscience of all Jewish people and not infringe upon them.

Ben-Gurion sent this letter, which later evolved into an agreement. This was while the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine investigated the political future of Palestine after the British decided to end their administration under the mandate.

Ben-Gurion, as the representative of the Jewish community in the Yishuv, aimed to assure the United Nations representatives from 11 countries that a Jewish State would uphold freedom of conscience and practice for all Jews, irrespective of their individual practices.

He also pledged that the Jewish State would include non-Jewish citizens with equal rights, free from coercion or discrimination. Thus, the Jewish Agency, speaking on behalf of the future Jewish state, had no intention of establishing a theocracy.

The Jewish community in the Yishuv consisted of diverse groups with varying religious beliefs. While most supported the idea of a Jewish-majority state, there were significant political differences, particularly due to the influx of newly arrived immigrants.

Also, a significant divergence has emerged between ultra-Orthodox Jews and Zionists. The Haredim didn't accept the idea of a non-religious Jewish state imposed by secularists before the Messiah's coming. Ben-Gurion didn't want religious opposition to the existence of the Jewish State and negotiated in 1947 a compromise, called the Status Quo.

After successfully reaching a compromise among different Jewish religious streams, Ben-Gurion had to address a political civil war in June 1948, immediately after independence was declared. He convinced militant Zionists to abandon their loyalty to the Irgun and instead dedicate themselves to the newly formed Israel Defense Forces.

Ben-Gurion's ability to prevent two types of Jewish civil wars allowed Jewish forces to overcome much larger Arab armies and succeed in the War of Independence.

Since the establishment of the Status-Quo Agreement, highly religious and strongly secular Jewish communities in Israel have continued to contend over political prerogatives, government funding, and personal privileges in the same four areas outlined by Ben-Gurion: observance of kosher laws, civil jurisdiction, education, and Sabbath observance.

The document does not address various contentious issues commonly associated with the status quo today: exemptions from military service for yeshiva students and religiously observant girls, the interdiction of pig farming, El Al flights on the Sabbath, archaeological excavations, autopsies, and abortion. Religious parties raised these issues only after the original status quo agreement.

They reflect the Orthodox parties' desire to extend their influence beyond the initial parameters of the status quo agreement.



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