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For the First Time, Religious ‘Status Quo’ Out of Government

For the first time in Israel’s history, the coalition agreement does not include a commitment to the religious-secular “status quo.”
By Maayana Miskin, Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 3/17/2013, 11:20 AM

Jewish teens in Jerusalem
Jewish teens in Jerusalem
Israel news photo: Flash 90

For the first time in Israel’s history, the new coalition agreement finalized and presented to President Shimon Peres on Saturday night does not include a commitment to the religious-secular “status quo.” Hareidi-religious parties are concerned, while the religious-Zionist sector celebrates.

The Status Quo agreements, instituted when the state was created, essentially state that the public observance of Jewish tradition will continue as it was in 1948, with no addition or decrease.

Among other things, the agreement means that cities that did not have public transportation on the Sabbath at that time will not add Sabbath bus lines, and marriage, divorce and conversion for Jews will remain under the auspices of the Rabbinate.

MK Meir Porush of the hareidi-religious Yahadut Hatorah (United Torah Judaism) party expressed concern over the fate of the “status quo” over a week ago. Porush demanded an explanation from the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party regarding its stance on the issue.

While the hareidi-religious parties are apparently concerned that opening the Status Quo agreements would mean a decrease in religious observance, the religious-Zionist group Ne’emanei Torah Va’avodah (Religious Labor Zionist party) issued a statement Sunday welcoming the change.

The group, which seeks “a thinking religious culture” and “a halakhic [Jewish legal] discourse that deals with the challenges of contemporary times,” expressed hope that ending the strict allegiance to the Status Quo would benefit Israeli society as a whole.

“This is a historically significant achievement,” the group said. “This is a precedent that will allow change for the better in the relationship between religion and state. We hope that the many promises elected officials have made to change the fundamental approach to religious services, by moving authority to individual communities, will yield fruit, for the good of the people,” it added.

The Bayit Yehudi party in particular has called to bring change to the Rabbinate, the state-run religious authority responsible for marriages, conversions and other elements of Jewish life under state supervision. Bayit Yehudi MKs say they want to make the Rabbinate more relevant to non-Orthodox Jews in Israel.

After his party signed the coalition agreement, Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett said, “During the elections we promised to deal with the cost of living, to increase competition in the market and to return the Jewish spirit to the country – and now we have acquired the tools to do that. This is a government with a great opportunity – and we will not miss it.”

Political parties on both ends of the religious spectrum issued statements saying they did not expect the government to last very long, and looking forward to the day it would fall.

MK Aryeh Deri, one of the leaders of the hareidi-religious Sephardic Shas party wrote on his Facebook page, “I can guarantee with certainty that in the coming years, the opposition in Israel will play a key role. See you at the elections, it will not be a long time from now.”

Far-left Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon had similar sentiments, commenting in an interview broadcast on Army Radio, “This will be a government of a political stalemate and a socio-economic crisis, and I believe it will not last long.”

Former Deputy Health Minister MK Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) said that the newly-formed government 'hates the Jewish religion' and will severely hurt the weaker populations. He added that his party would work hard to shorten its term.