Ruth Gavison, champion of secular-religious reconciliation, dies at 75

Gavison worked tirelessly to bridge the divide between secular and observant Jews and to retain Israel’s character as both a democratic and Jewish state.

Ruth Gavison 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ruth Gavison 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Israel Prize laureate and one of the country’s greatest legal thinkers, Prof. Ruth Gavison, died on Saturday at the age of 75.
Gavison, a highly influential and important figure in the field of law, dedicated most of her life to civil rights and democracy.
Gavison worked tirelessly to bridge the divide between secular and observant Jews and to retain Israel’s character as both a democratic and Jewish state.
Together with Rabbi Yaakov Medan from Yeshivat Har Etzion in Gush Etzion, she drew up the Gavison-Medan Covenant, which generated a draft of a new framework for coexistence between religious and secular Jews in Israel.
Gavison believed that the only way to deal with the religious-secular rift was by compromise, in which neither side would get everything it wanted but would be able to live in harmony alongside one another.
“One thing Ruth wrote about Rabbi Medan, with whom she drafted the Gavison-Medan Covenant, describes her character more than anything else. ‘May our core differences not jeopardize our ability to promote what is shared between us,’” Opposition leader Yair Lapid said on Saturday.
Head of Yisrael Beytenu Avigdor Liberman said that the covenant “goes against unilateral decisions in relation to religion and state, should serve as a milestone for us.”
Gavison also made a name for herself for objecting to the extreme activism of the Supreme Court, and her claim that the principles along the democratic-Jewish, religious-secular and Arab-Jewish divide should not be set by the Supreme Court, but by the Knesset, since it is the legislature that truly represents the full spectrum of opinions in Israel.
This position is said to have cost her a place on the Supreme Court back in 2005, when Justice Minister Tzipi Livni tried pushing her candidacy but court president Aharon Barak pushed back, reportedly claiming that Gavison “had an agenda.”
Livni called Gavison a “legal giant, a guide and a beacon of justice and values.”
“She shared with me, until her last days, a deep concern for the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country. She worked to find the balance between values, the common denominator to help bring together different parts in society,” Livni added.
Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked expressed her condolences, calling Gavison “a brilliant woman.”
“She always emphasized what unites and not what separates us. Her opinion was always important, well informed, and very appreciated by both political wings. Every justice minister used to consult with Ruth regardless of the ideology he or she believed in,” Shaked added.
“The last time we spoke was in May when she sent me an article about a topic that bothered us both and we discussed it repeatedly: the criminalization that the justice system is doing to political life. Her death is a great loss to the Israeli legal world and to Israel society in its entirety.”
The Israeli Institute for Democracy (IDI) also expressed its condolences over Gavison’s death.
“Professor Gavison always stood out because of her uniqueness and original thinking, her extraordinary analytical skills, clarity of thinking, her special way of expressing herself in writing and immense courage,” IDI wrote.
“She was entirely committed to Israeli society, and to the promotion of values such as truth, justice, and pacification. She also understood the importance of balancing between conflicting values, as well as the promotion of the idea of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country while developing Zionist-liberal ideals.”