By Larry Gordon
The matter of status quo as it applies to relations between Israel and her Arab neighbors jumped into the news a few weeks ago as a result of the murder of two Israeli policemen by Arab terrorists on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
In the aftermath of the killings, Israel installed much-publicized and written-about metal detectors at the entrance to the Mount in an effort to keep dangerous weapons like guns and knives from entering the area and being used to kill.
At the advent of this otherwise innocuous event, the Muslim world reignited its threats about jihad and other forms of violence and damage, insisting that the move violates the status quo on the Temple Mount.
So just what is it that the status quo at that holy place consists of? This state of affairs is usually the condition in which a piece of disputed land or perhaps even a policy finds itself in the aftermath of some sort of war or other conflagration.
So as it applies to Jerusalem, for example, today’s status quo would mean that Har HaBayis, even though it was liberated by Israel from Arab rule in 1967, is subject to the Arab Waqf’s oversight of the property and the mosques there, which were handed back for a number of reasons that now seem less sensible or logical.
More than almost any other area of the world, Israel seems to be the land of the status quo. No one is allowed to make a move without its being seen as a challenge to the veracity of a policy put in place years or decades ago. And there is no other place anywhere that is more sensitive to even the slightest hint of change than the Temple Mount.
For example, Jews have been arrested on Har HaBayis for something as elementary as closing their eyes. For some odd reason, it is accepted that if Jews even look like they might be praying, that action, according to current policy, violates the status quo and is reason enough for police to detain the perpetrator and forcibly remove him from the Mount.
The contradictory aspect of this absurd approach to keeping the peace is that it only applies to Jews. Only Jews can upset or violate the status quo. Changes that are introduced by the Arab side are considered a reset or a new status quo.
The best recent news—of which just the thought process itself violated the so-called status quo—were off-the-record comments by the president’s senior aide and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was surreptitiously recorded saying that he thought there might not be any solution to the hundred-year-old dispute between Jews and Palestinians in Israel.
The sentiments articulated by Mr. Kushner two weeks ago are essentially that the “two-state solution” might be a lot of things, but it is not actually a solution by any stretch of the imagination anymore. Even more odd is that all involved are likely aware that the two-state formulation is today unworkable, but it could cause an international incident should that be announced as Israel’s official policy.
This idea of maintaining the status quo reaches into other areas of Israeli life, aside from the Arab nemesis with the illegitimate objective to dismantle the Jewish state as we know it. And that is specifically the area of religion, which does not involve the Arab sector in the country at all. This is a Jew-versus-Jew matter, and it ebbs and flows and sometimes even borders on racing out of control, as was the case recently.
So this is the story. From the founding of the state of Israel, the law or policy—depending on how you view it—has been that a Jew is defined as a person whose mother was or is a Jew. And that’s the way it has always been and still continues to be today.
But that tradition and that law has not stopped many—mostly non-Orthodox—groups from challenging the status quo and pressuring and beseeching lawmakers in Israel to change or, as they consider it, to update the law. Despite these attempts, the law simply cannot be changed for at least one major reason, and that is to preserve the status quo.
Just a few weeks ago, Israel had a virtual revolt on her hands as Conservative and Reform groups here in the U.S. were campaigning to coax American Jews to rethink their support of Israel on all levels as a way to pressure the state to offer these groups parity with the Orthodox on religious matters.
The arguments for effectuating change seem sound and even solid. The overwhelming number of Jews worldwide are either affiliated with these movements that exist outside of Orthodoxy or even more likely are completely secular with no affiliation whatsoever. And only when the issue is brought to the fore do the collective non-Orthodox begin looking around and inquiring about what is truly going on in Israel on these matters.
From a historical perspective, one of the things David Ben-Gurion had to assure the United Nations prior to that body recognizing the state of Israel was that the emerging state would be secular and feature freedom of speech and freedom of thought for all its citizens. In order to patch together a governing coalition, he needed the support of religious parties in Israel. It was unthinkable that a Jewish state would emerge in the land of Israel without considering how and to what extent that entity would relate to its true Jewish and halachic foundations.
So back in 1948, as a concession to the Orthodox, and considering that the other so-called streams of Judaism were extremely underdeveloped, the prime minister assigned control of four vital areas of Jewish life to the Orthodox in Israel. They are Shabbos, kashrut, family laws (marriage), and education.
It is specifically these four areas of life that the non-Orthodox and the secularists are doing battle with so diligently. They seem to want to tone down the Shabbos restrictions mandated by Jewish law. They want kosher laws redefined and more tolerance or freedom for stores to sell non-kosher food items. The biggest battle might be on the subject of marriage and the fact that marriages performed by non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel are not officially recognized.
And they want greater input and more of a say in the education system, which is arguably the underpinning and foundation of any successful country or society. While these battles continue to be waged, it is the power of the status quo that prevails.
The question for now and into the near future is how durable or flexible the status quo is. By the very definition of the concept, it should be immovable. But in a modern world of compromise and in the interest of keeping the peace, Ben-Gurion’s promises to the founding Orthodox members of the state might be in greater jeopardy than ever before.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.