The Jewish State

“…A Jewish State in the Land of Israel, the State of Israel…”

The name of the State

The question of the name of the State of Israel was not always so clear. At first, a number of proposals were made: such as the State of the Jews, the State of Israel, the State of Zion, the State of Judea, the Jewish State of Palestine and more. A committee consisting of three members of the Provisional Government submitted a reasoned opinion on how to call the state to be.

A reasoned opinion that the state’s name should be the State of Israel

The Jewish State or the State of Israel?

After the declaration of the state, Dr. Eliahu Epstein (Eilat), who later became Israel’s first ambassador to the United States, turned to the US president with a request that the United States recognize the Jewish state in Palestine. (Notice he is called Agent and not Ambassador, since he has not yet been appointed).

Eliahu Epstein seeks recognition for the Jewish state in Palestine 14.5.1948

President Truman sent a letter recognizing the State of Israel. Note that the words “Jewish State” are deleted.

President Truman recognizes the State of Israel 14.5.1948

For more information on the US recognition of Israel  Here

The “Jewish State” stamps

In order to ensure orderly mail service to the country’s Jewish inhabitants, the People’s Council instructed the postal workers to maintain regular mail distribution, using stamps produced by the Jewish National Fund. The “Jewish State” stamps were issued by the Jewish National Fund in January 1948, to mark the United Nations Partition Resolution.

“Jewish State” stamps issued in January 1948 – before the official name of the nascent state had been determined – and used as interim postage after the closure of British post offices.

“…their spiritual, religious and political identity…”

Official days of rest

Following the establishment of the State, the “Law and Administration Ordinance” was issued on May 19, 1948. It provided detailed guidelines with regard to the governmental and legal arrangements in the new state. Two weeks later, the Provisional Council of State added another chapter to the Ordinance, which addressed the issue of official days of rest in the country.

The “Ordinance Establishing Days of Rest” defined the Saturday Sabbath and the Jewish holidays as the official days of rest of the State of Israel. This order was faithful to the clause in the Declaration of Independence guaranteeing freedom of worship and ritual to all citizens, since it granted “to non-Jews, the right to keep days of rest in accordance with their own sabbaths and holidays”. Similarly, it did not necessitate religious coercion; the designation of the Sabbath and holidays as “days of rest” did not dictate the religious content of those days.

Order establishing national days of rest signed by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Minister of Justice Felix Rosenblueth (Pinchas Rosen).

Proposal to establish Herzliya as the temporary capital

As early as November 1947, before the Partition Plan had even been adopted by the UN General Assembly, a body known as the “Situation Committee” was created as a result of the collective efforts of the Jewish Agency and the National Council, the representative body of the Jews of Palestine. The role of this committee was to prepare the groundwork for the governmental and administrative institutions that would need to be established with the creation of the Jewish state. The Situation Committee took a wide range of steps that eventually enabled these institutions to begin functioning. The committee was also asked to address the issue of where to locate the state’s central governmental institutions.

Among the multitude of memoranda and proposals that flooded the committee’s desks was this particular paper, delivered by the local council president of the settlement of Herzliya, containing a detailed and thoughtful proposal to establish Herzliya as the capital of the Jewish state that was about to be born. This was meant to be a temporary measure, until the battle for Jerusalem would be resolved, whereupon Jerusalem would assume its rightful place as the nation’s capital. The main arguments in favor of the Herzliya proposal centered on the settlement’s strategic and economic assets. David Ben-Gurion issued a laconic response to the memorandum, stating that there was as yet no institution in existence with the authority to decide the issue; at the appropriate time, said Ben-Gurion, the Herzliya proposal would be taken into account.

Proposal to establish Herzliya as the temporary capital, by local Herzliya leaders, suggesting the city serve as center for the government until the conflict in Jerusalem reached an end.

The status of Jerusalem

In light of the results of the War of Independence, and the establishment of the state of Israel, the question of the status of Jerusalem arose again. In the winter of 1949, the UN General Assembly was supposed to pass a fateful decision on the future controls over Jerusalem. Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett went to the conference in New York, hoping that through diplomatic activity he would manage to thwart the initiative for international recognition of Arab rule in the Old City of Jerusalem. However, during the deliberations of the General Assembly, a proposal to internationalize Jerusalem, on the basis of the partition plan, was raised.

On the 4th of December 1949, as reports of these development reached Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion sent a telegram to Foreign Minister Sharett, strongly opposing a UN proposal to internationalize Jerusalem or any form of foreign rule in the city. Ben-Gurion also threatened that if the resolution to internationalize Jerusalem would pass, Israel would withdraw from the United Nations. Ben-Gurion stated “…and if we had to choose between leaving Jerusalem or leaving the United Nations, we will choose to leave the UN.”

Despite the continued attempts of persuasion by various Jewish personalities, on December 9, 1949, the UN General Assembly accepted the Australian proposal to internationalize Jerusalem as a separate body under the administration of a UN trusteeship. This decision shocked the Israeli public and led to a political storm during which the foreign minister resigned. On December 13, the Israeli government passed a resolution to transfer the Knesset and all other national institutions and government offices to Jerusalem, the capital of the state.

Telegram from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, 4 December 1949, to Foreign Minister Sharett, strongly opposing a UN proposal to internationalize Jerusalem or any form of foreign rule in the city.

 Basic Law: Jerusalem – Capital of Israel

The “Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel” was enacted as a result of the initiative of Knesset Member Geula Cohen, and was adopted by the Knesset on June 30, 1980, with 69 members voting in favor and 15 opposed.

The law defines the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and formally establishes the unity and integrity of its two sectors. It also demands that all the national institutions that symbolize Israel’s sovereignty – namely the president’s residence, the Knesset, the government, and the Supreme Court – be located in Jerusalem.

The law also ensures that the holy places be preserved and protected against any form of harm or desecration, and be granted full freedom of access; and it confers preferential status on the city with regard to economic development, by calling for special budget allocations. The response of the international community to the enactment of this law was decidedly hostile. The United Nations Security Council demanded that it be abrogated. At the same time, a number of countries decided to move their embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

Establishing a united Jerusalem as the seat of government and protecting the city’s holy places, this law sparked international protest.

A classified letter which includes a translation to The “Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel”  was sent to the embassies of the following countries: Washington, London, Rome, Paris, Rio de janeiro, Copenhagen, Addis Ababa and more.

A classified letter which includes a translation to The “Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel”  was sent to the embassies of the following countries: Washington, London, Rome, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Copenhagen, Addis Ababa and more.

The “Who is a Jew?” Controversy

In June 1958, the religious parties angrily departed from the coalition government after Minister of the Interior Yisrael Bar Yehuda issued directives stating that all individuals declaring themselves in good faith to be Jewish should be listed as such in the population registry and on their identity cards. In addition, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had just announced that the nationality of children of mixed couples should be listed on the basis of a joint declaration by their parents. In July, Ben-Gurion suspended the new directives regarding the listing of children of mixed couples, pending the decisions of a committee consisting of three ministers: himself, Bar Yehuda, and Minister of Justice Pinchas Rosen.

In order to formulate a consensual position, the committee consulted some 50 intellectuals and rabbis – “Sages of Israel,” so to speak – and asked their opinion regarding “how to address the issue of listing [the faith and nationality] of the children of mixed marriages, when both parents – the Jewish father as well as the non-Jewish mother – would like to have their children listed as Jews.”

Letter sent by Ben-Gurion to about 50 “Sages of Israel,” prominent figures from the Jewish world, requesting their ideas on defining Jewish identity of children of interfaith marriages

Most of the respondents sided with the halakhic Jewish approach, which states that a Jew can only be defined as someone whose mother is Jewish, or someone halakhically converted to Judaism. This was roughly the opinion given by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad (Lubavitch) Hassidic movement.

Letter of response from Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe,  to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, February 16 1959.

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion received large amounts of replies regarding his enquiry, such as the following replies from the intellectual Isaiah Berlin and the Israeli author Haim Hazaz

Page 1 from a letter of reply sent from Isaiah Berlin to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion regarding the question of listing children of mixed couples

Page 2 from a letter of reply sent from Isaiah Berlin to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion regarding the question of listing children of mixed couples

Page 3 from a letter of reply sent from Isaiah Berlin to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion regarding the question of listing children of mixed couples

Page 4 from a letter of reply sent from Isaiah Berlin to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion regarding the question of listing children of mixed couples

Letter of response from author Haim Hazaz which supported establishing the Jewish identity of a child according to the wishes of the parents in cases of interfaith unions in the State of Israel

In December 1959, following elections to the Fourth Knesset, a new government was formed and Haim Moshe Shapira of the National Religious Party became Minister of the Interior. Shapira directed the employees of the ministry to act according to the halakhic ruling, and to list the children of mixed couples according to their mother’s religion.

“…guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, langauge, education and culture…”

Compulsory Education Law

The authors of the Declaration had freedom of education in mind and they presumably also intended to enshrine the right of all “streams” in Jewish education. On this basis, parents were eventually granted the possibility of enrolling their children in education subsystems of their choice. Obviously, freedom of education was not meant to empower every parent to dictade his children’s curriculum nor to teach at home, in circumvention of all school settings (although a quite liberal interpretation of the relevant statutes has allowed such cases).

The following memo was sent to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion to inform him that with the enaction of the Compulsory Education Law another 8000 students will join the 110,000 students already enrolled.

Memo in response to Ben-Gurion’s request to know how many children would be added to the school system by the enforcement of the Compulsory Education Law

Report of the Frumkin Committee

Not long after the creation of the Jewish state, reports appeared in both the Israeli press and the foreign media that Israel was forcibly imposing a secular educational curriculum on new immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, with an agenda that amounted to anti-religious coercion. As an outcome of intense public pressure and harsh criticism, the Israeli government appointed a committee of inquiry in 1950 whose purpose was to investigate the allegations.

Former Supreme Court Justice Gad Frumkin was chosen to chair the committee. The committee heard testimony from many dozens of witnesses, and paid visits to immigrant camps where, it was alleged, a strict secular lifestyle was being imposed on the newcomers. In the end, the committee concluded that the government had not engaged in any intentional anti-religious coercion. Nevertheless, the committee did find fault in the decision to entrust the education of the immigrant children in question to the Ministry of Education’s Department for Language Instruction, which was part of the Culture Department.

As a result of the committee’s findings, authority over the education of immigrant children was transferred to the Education Ministry’s Educational Department. New regulations were instituted, with the goal of providing continuity and a traditional Jewish education to the immigrant families, in accordance with their own desires. Elections were held in Israel a short time after the publication of the committee’s report. Following these elections, David Remez was appointed minister of education in place of Zalman Shazar, who was judged by the committee to be responsible for some of the failings that were exposed. The Frumkin Committee was the very first governmental committee of inquiry in the history of the State of Israel.

Report from the Frumkin Commission: The first state commission of inquiry investigated claims that new Middle Eastern immigrants had been pressured to abandon their religious traditions, May 9 1950.

The official national language: Hebrew and Arabic

It is clear that the freedom of language assured in the Declaration refers to the right of Israeli Arabs not only to speak and provide education in their language but also to use Arabic in all official contacts. Recognition of Arabic as an official language has solved this problem and, practically speaking, no special difficulties have come up over the years.

The following letter was signed by Yael Uzay, the acting Government Secretary, to the director-general of the Interior Ministry, clarifying the status of Arabic as an Official national language in government offices, 5 February 1959.

Letter clarifying that Arabic is an official national language, February 5 1959.

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