The State of Israel as a Modern Jewish Enterprise: An Introduction


Establishment of the State of Israel . In accordance with the UN resolution , elections were held in 1949 for the Constituent Assembly that was to legislate the constitution ( only later would its name be changed , post facto , to the First Knesset ) . The ultra-Orthodox were unwilling to hear of the possibility of an essentially secular democratic constitution , and announced that they would consent only to a constitution that would be “ the constitution of the Torah . ” On the eve of the establishment of the state the religious Zionists had backed the idea of a constitution , hoping that such a constitution would ensure , not only the freedom of religion of the religious public , but also the “ Jewish public sphere ” of the state . When , however , they realized that they would not obtain a majority in support of their position , they , too , joined the ultra-Orthodox in their sweeping opposition to a constitution . This was decisive proof of the inability and unwillingness of the majority of the religious and the ultra-Orthodox to internalize democratic values , to accept the will of the majority ( even though it took the minority into consideration ) , and to abstain from the urge to take advantage of their strength to impose compulsory religious arrangements on the secular society . They found a strong , forceful , and decisive ally : David Ben-Gurion . He emphatically rejected the idea of a constitution - not only , and not even mainly , out of his desire to lay a firm foundation for his alliance with the religious camp , but also out of his fierce desire to leave the door open for a change in the electoral method , to a regional-majority method . Ben-Gurion’s rivals , from right and left , claimed that he rejected the idea of a constitution , among other reasons , because he did not want to impose constitutional limitations on his rule . In light of this , the status quo arrangement regarding religion and state that has accompanied Israeli society since the state’s establishment can easily be understood . Various researchers have already refuted the commonly accepted myth that the status quo arrangement was based on the letter to Agudath Israel , dated June 19 , 1947 , and signed by Ben-Gurion , Rabbi Fishman , and Yizhak Gruenbaum , that was meant to prevent the ultra-Orthodox from appearing separately before the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine . These researchers give a later date for the beginnings of the status quo arrangement ( see “ Status Quo in Religious Affairs ” in this section ) . In the legal sense , this view is correct , but the concept of a status quo took shape , in the process described here , over the course of decades . It therefore is not coincidental that this term was first used by Zerach Warhaftig , one of the leaders of Ha-Poel Ha-Mizrachi . In a memorandum dated at the beginning of October 1947 , he wrote that the most important religious problems are the Sabbath , family legislation and personal status , the organization of the communities and the rabbinate , and that “ it is reasonable that the promise of a status quo will be the desired solution for all these matters . ” Thus , the roots of the agreements between the religious Zionists and the secular majority in the Zionist leadership extend as far back as the first Zionist Congresses . Controversially Rising to Meet Challenges In the first decades of its existence , the State of Israel contended with a series of challenges that were complex and difficult by any standard : the blood-drenched War of Independence , that ended in victory , but left Israel in the trap of hostile relations with the surrounding Arab world ; the absorption of mass immigration , of the survivors of the Nazi destruction and of Jews from Islamic lands , that within two years almost doubled the Jewish population of the state , and presented it with complex educational and cultural challenges ; supplying the needs of a quickly-growing population , with an economy that was incapable of growing at a similar pace ; a considerable Arab minority , shocked by the downfall of 1948 and the tragedy of being refugees , that had been promised full equal rights by the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel , but which

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