(19 June 1947)

Source: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/128552?lang=bi

The Status-Quo Agreement is an understanding reached between David Ben-Gurion, then the chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, and the religious parties in the period before Israel became a state. In a letter to the religious party Agudat Israel, Ben-Gurion stipulates that in the coming state specific Jewish laws will be protected.  Shabbat will be observed; Kashrut, or Jewish dietary laws, will be kept; family laws, marriage and divorce will remain under the jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts; and Orthodox Jews will have full autonomy to educate their own as they see fit, as will all Jews. Ben-Gurion also promises that the state will not infringe on the religious philosophy or the religious conscience of any part of the Jewish people.

Ben-Gurion sent the Hebrew – language letter, which evolved into an agreement, while the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine was investigating the possibilities for Palestine’s political future after the British decided in to terminate their administration in the Mandate. Ben-Gurion, in representing the Jewish community in Palestine, sought to assure the U.N. representatives, delegates from 11 countries, that a Jewish state would ensure freedom of conscience and practice for all Jews, regardless of individual practice. Ben-Gurion also assured the U.N. committee that the Jewish state would include non-Jewish citizens who would have equal rights before the law, free from coercion or discrimination. Therefore, there was no intention on the part of the Jewish Agency, speaking on behalf of the future Jewish state, to be a theocracy.

The Jewish community in Palestine originated from varying places with strong and disparate religious beliefs, and though most were committed to a future majority- Jewish state, there were keen political differences amid a sociological dynamic that was changing with new immigrants monthly. After achieving a tension-ridden compromise among Jewish religious streams with the Status-Quo Agreement in 1947, Ben-Gurion had to clamp down on a political civil war in June 1948, immediately after the state was declared, by persuading militant Zionists to give up their allegiance to the Irgun and devote themselves to the new Israel Defense Forces. Ben-Gurion’s ability to thwart two kinds of Jewish civil wars enabled Jewish forces to succeed in the War of Independence over Arab armies that were five times their size. 

Since the presentation of the Status-Quo Agreement, highly religiously practicing and adamantly secular Jewish communities in Israel have continued to tussle over the assertion of political prerogatives, access to government budgets and personal privileges in the same four areas where Ben-Gurion sought a temporary compromise then: observance of kosher laws, jurisdiction over civil procedure, education and Sabbath observance. Those sensitive issues have brought down governments and cemented others in Israel’s 75 years.

 Ken Stein, 10.7.2022 

Translated Text of the      Status-Quo Agreement,      June 19, 1947

From: The Jewish Agency for Palestine, etc.

To: The World Organization of Agudath Israel, etc., Jerusalem

Dear Sirs,

The Agency’s Executive has learned from its chairman of your requests concerning guarantees on matters of matrimony, Shabbat, education, and kashrut in the Jewish state, once it is established in our days.

As you were informed by the Chairman of the Executive, neither the Agency’s Executive nor any other body in the country is authorized to determine the law of the Jewish state in advance. The establishment of the state requires the approval of the United Nations, and this is impossible unless freedom of conscience in the state is guaranteed to all its citizens, and unless it is clear that there is no intention of establishing a theocratic state. The Jewish state will also have non-Jewish citizens, Christians and Moslems, and, evidently, it will be necessary to ensure in advance full equal rights to all citizens and the absence of coercion or discrimination in matters of religion or in any other matter. We were satisfied to hear that you understand that there is no body authorized to determine in advance the constitution of the state, and that the state will be, in some spheres, free to determine its constitution and regime according to its citizens’ wishes.

Still, the Executive appreciates your demands, and is aware that these are matters that worry not only the members of Agudath Israel, but also many of the religious faithful in all Zionist parties or in no party, and it is sympathetic to your demands that the Agency’s Executive inform you of its position regarding the issues you have brought up, and what it is willing to do, as far as its influence and directives reach, in order to fulfill your wishes regarding the said issues.

The Agency’s Executive has authorized the undersigned to formulate its position regarding the issues you have mentioned at the meeting. The position of the Agency’s Executive is as follows:

A. Shabbat. It is clear that Shabbat will be the legal day of rest in the Jewish state. Permission will naturally be given to Christians and to those practicing other religions to rest on their weekly day of rest.

B. Kashrut. All means should be pursued to ensure that every state-run kitchen for the use of Jews serves kosher food.

C. Marital Law. All the members of the Executive appreciate the seriousness of the problem and the grave difficulties pertaining to it, and all the bodies represented in the Agency’s Executive will do whatever possible to satisfy the deep need of the religiously observant in this matter, lest the House of Israel be divided in two.

D. Education. Full autonomy will be guaranteed to every education network (incidentally, this policy already exists in the Zionist Federation and Knesset Yisroel) and the state will not infringe on the religious philosophy or the religious conscience of any part of the Jewish people. … 

Sincerely,

On behalf of the Jewish Agency Executive, 

D. Ben-Gurion, Rabbi Y.L. Fishman, Y. Grinboim.