The Gavison-Medan Covenant: Main Points and Principles

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  • Cover Type: Softcover |English | Also available in Hebrew and Russian
  • Number Of Pages: 112 Pages
  • Price: 15 NIS

This study presents a summary of the compelling dialogue process that took place between Prof. Ruth Gavison and Rabbi Yaacov Medan, which generated a draft of a new framework for coexistence between religious and secular Jews in Israel.

This study presents a summary of the compelling dialogue process that took place between Prof. Ruth Gavison and Rabbi Yaacov Medan, which generated a draft of a new framework for coexistence between religious and secular Jews in Israel.

The Spirit of the Covenant and a Summary of its Proposals

The Background to the Writing of the Covenant

Main Points

Chapter One: Return, Citizenship, Population, Registry and Conversion

Chapter Two: Personal Status – Marriage and the Dissolution of Marriage

Chapter Three: The Sabbath

Chapter Four: Other Issues:

A. Religious Councils
B. Kashrut – Religious Dietary Laws
C. Pathology and Organ Transplants
D. Burial
E. Prayer at the Western Wall Plaza
F. The IDF

Chapter Five: Legal Arrangements in Matters of Religion and State

Main Principles of Yaacov Medan in the Covenant

Main Principles of Ruth Gavison in the Covenant

During January 2003, around the time of the Knesset elections, the preliminary edition of our essay, "Foundation for a New Covenant among Jews in Matters of Religion and State in Israel" was published. To a large extent, the elections were conducted not only in the shadow of the violent conflict with the Arabs-Palestinians and its impact on the internal political struggle within the State of Israel, but also in the throes of the internal political battle over the country’s profile. This battle is being waged even among those who agree - including the covenant's framers and the majority of the nation’s population - that Israel is and should remain the state of the Jewish people. This battle has yet to be decided. The dispute, at least as presented in the media, has become increasingly divisive, evoking such hatred and suspicion among various social sectors as to jeopardize the possibility of collaboration. The covenant was written to broach these problems from a different angle, emphasizing our commonalities. It therefore aims to create a common ground, through a common framework which, while unifying, leaves room for disagreement on a number of issues; such a framework has the potential to be beneficial to all parties.

After three years of drafts and revisions, the covenant is now ready for what will be the longer leg of its journey - the trip through the public and the political system. This journey began with the blessing of the President of Israel, Moshe Katsav, and other leading figures. At the time this document went to press, the covenant was slowly circulating the tortuous corridors of Israel's political institutions, and its main task still lies ahead: the creation of a public and educational climate, underlying which is the notion that our commonalities must prevail over our differences. Recognition of this fact will enable the creation of an operative framework for devising solutions, and discourage a particular side from forcing defeat upon the other. It is our intention in publishing this volume to present the spirit of the covenant and its practical proposals to a broad cross-section of the population. Once the document has been widely circulated, we will examine how the proposals fared under scrutiny, and then draft the final version.

The covenant itself, with all its preambles and clarifications, is too long and complex for the amount of time the average person will have to devote to it. We have therefore encouraged the publication of the following essay, Main Points and Principles, written by our colleague Yoav Artzieli, under our guidance and direction.

In keeping with our request, the essay is written in the first person and preserves the spirit of the original. The aim of this (relatively!) brief essay was not brevity per se, but a wish to present all of our proposals in every sphere together with the main points of their explanations. Also articulated here are the principles on which the covenant is based. The main points and principles are introduced in this essay after two particularly short prefaces. The first is “The Spirit of the Covenant and a Summary of its Proposals” (this is the only chapter that we wrote ourselves, aside from this introduction), and the second is “The Background to the Writing of the Covenant.” We recommend that readers who cannot read the entire essay confine themselves to these short sections.

What, then, are the main points and principles?

The main points of this essay are the central ideas that we sought to introduce in the covenant, and through them to arrive at a proposal for agreed arrangements in various areas.

The legal-civic and theoretical-universal examination of the proposed provisions was conducted primarily by Prof. Gavison, while Rabbi Medan focused chiefly on the theological-halakhic inquiry. In seeking to retain the spirit of each of our explanations, the author of the present text at times deliberately repeats similar statements with the differing and unique emphases brought by each of us.
The main points also contain references to the chief aspects of each proposal. We advise readers to begin each chapter by reading the main points, which include a clear rendering of the highlights and innovations of the proposal, with references to the specific sections. We suggest reading the proposal itself only afterward (proposals are presented in a distinct graphic format at the beginning of each chapter and appear in the full original).

The principles were distilled in a concise and judicious fashion by the author from the long personal forewords we wrote in the original covenant. They relate the ideological dilemmas experienced by each of us in our joint endeavor and our respective reasons for embarking on this endeavor despite the difficulties. The principles demonstrate that it is possible to arrive at a single joint proposal without contradicting the tenets of our divergent beliefs: the Torah and Jewish law on the one hand, and the centrality of the principles of equality and human dignity and liberty on the other.

In the full version of the covenant our personal forewords preceded the proposals and their explanations. In this rendering we assume a reverse approach, beginning with the agreed, practical proposals, each preceded by elucidations (“Main Points”), and only subsequently presenting the personal credos that guided each of us in this endeavor (“Principles”).

As mentioned, this essay - in contradistinction to the covenant as a whole - was written not by us, but under our guidance. With all due modesty, we believe that reading the covenant itself - despite the effort required –enables one to explore the roots of the problems and clarify them more thoroughly than can be achieved through a study of the Main Points and Principles alone. We accept, however, that there is a need for this essay as well, as it provides an important prelude to any study of the complete document. We thought it appropriate that a single author, who understands both of our styles and knows the covenant well, should present this issue in his own style, which is less academic and more popular and flowing than our own. We therefore welcome this essay and believe that it can provide the basis for a public discourse regarding the covenant, its main points and its principles, a discourse in whose absence we will have failed to accomplish very much. For, not all wisdom resides within us, nor is it our responsibility to complete the task. Of this we are certain: the common ground is extensive, while that which divides us can be settled in a manner that is agreeable to both sides, even if it differs somewhat from that proposed in the covenant. And this agreement is of critical importance to us all.

We would like again to thank Israel Harel for conceiving this project and bringing it into being. Without him none of this would have been possible.

Yonina Hoffman, Meir ben Shahar and Yoav Artzieli assisted us greatly in the course of our work.

The Shalom Hartman Institute and the Rabin Center were the distinguished hosts of the covenant during the first two years of the work in process. Sarit Idel coordinated the work of the discussion groups at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

And a final thanks to the Israel Democracy Institute and the AVI CHAI Foundation, which undertook the publication of the full covenant, of this essay Main Points and Principles, including its translation into English and Russian, and the vitally important mission of introducing the covenant to the public.

Ruth Gavison and Yaacov Medan
Jerusalem, Independence Day 2003

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With the aim of promoting Jewish solidarity, a sense of unity and shared destiny among the various segments of the Jewish people and especially within the State of Israel, and dignity for each and every one of its sectors...

And out of a deep faith in two principles: that the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people with all that this entails, and that the State of Israel holds equality for all citizens and full respect for their rights as person as  its raison d'être—we propose to agree upon the following guidelines:

The State of Israel is the place where the Jewish people is exercising its right to self-determination in part of its historical homeland. The state’s existence, security and prosperity depend upon a sense of a shared destiny among the different sectors of the Jewish people and of mutual responsibility between them.  Profound disagreements currently pose a threat to this partnership, to the point of generating baseless hatred among different groups.  The covenant provides a consensual operating framework that enables the preservation of the lifestyles of the respective groups while emphasizing the common ground.

Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. Israel will continue to respect the equal rights of all its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish, along with freedom of religion and conscience, in the spirit of the Proclamation of Independence. In addition to this social compact between sectors of the Jewish public in Israel (and in the Diaspora), it would be appropriate to seek out a common civil-political framework for all citizens of the state.

The best way of addressing fundamental disagreements is to establish a practical framework that is acceptable to all sectors of the Jewish public in Israel, through a process of dialogue. In this manner the dignity of all groups is upheld, with an attendant commitment to protect the beliefs and lifestyles of each, enabling all groups to act in a coordinated fashion to promote shared existential goals. The spirit of the covenant rejects the use of coercion against any group in order to persuade it to relinquish that which it holds as holy and dear. It permits and even mandates agreements concerning the shared public domain, which take into account the beliefs of every group. Given that division of the public domain completely among the various groups is neither possible nor desirable, its ordering requires coordination and balancing. The covenant also rejects the introduction of unilateral changes in agreements, and changes achieved through political or juridical decisions, while welcoming the institution of a consensual decision-making procedure.

We appeal to the leaders of the Jewish public in Israel to embrace the spirit of the covenant in all future discourse on matters of religion and state. This would be in the interest of maintaining peaceful conduct.  It is also the call of the hour, in view of the disastrous consequences of exacerbating the social divide.

Acting in the spirit of the covenant as we understand it, we have drafted  proposals for consensual arrangements concerning several issues currently steeped in controversy—relations between Torah and state and relations between different communities within the Jewish population.  We believe that the adoption of these proposals will significantly advance the basic objectives of the covenant.

We therefore call upon the Israeli Jewish public to study the spirit of the covenant, its fundamental tenets and the proposals it comprises, and to work towards the adoption of such a document.

Following are the proposals in concise format:

  • Right of Return: Every “child of the Jewish people” will be eligible to immigrate to Israel, including the child of a Jewish father and a person who has converted through a recognized procedure. Even someone who converted in a manner that diverges from the tradition of the “Shulhan Arukh” will be entitled to register himself as a Jew in the population registry. 
  • Personal Status: The right to establish a family will be recognized.  The law of the state will permit weddings conducted according to any ceremony the couple chooses, and the marriage will be recorded in the population registry. No individual in Israel will be allowed to marry who is not single both according to state law and according to a strict interpretation of the laws of his religion. 
  • The Sabbath: Saturday is the official day of rest in Israel.  Citizens will not be employed and will not be required to work in manufacturing, trade or services on the Sabbath. Cultural events, entertainment and a reduced schedule of public transportation will be permitted in accordance with demand.
  • Principle of Non-Coercion: This refers to the elimination of any monopoly exercised by a particular group on overall arrangements; at the same time, the right of every group to preserve its own lifestyle according to its own conception and interpretation will be respected. The same will hold true in matters of burial, dietary laws, the Sabbath, religious services and prayer arrangements at the Western Wall.
  • Legal Implementation: The covenant will be anchored in law such that it will be difficult to introduce partial and unilateral changes into its mechanisms. It is in the spirit of the covenant as a whole to give preference to mechanisms for negotiation and compromise over legislative and judicial decision-making. The courts, therefore, will not be granted the authority to invalidate laws concerning the covenant. The interpretation of the covenant, insofar as there is no court case involved, will be entrusted to an accepted representative public body, in order to encourage consensual interpretation without the need for recourse through the courts. 

Ruth Gavison and Yaacov Medan

Ruth Gavisonholds the Haim Cohen Human Rights Chair at the Faculty of Law of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Yaacov Medan is a rabbi and educator at the Har-Etzion religious seminary, and also teaches at the Yaacov Herzog College in Alon Shvut.

Yoav Artzieli is a research assistant at the Israel Democracy Institute and a member of the Israel Bar Association.