Before the establishment of Israel and in the first years after independence, the “status quo” arrangement served as a consensual framework for relations between observant and non-observant Jews in the country. Complex processes in Israeli society, the shifting relations between Israel and the Diaspora, and changes in Western society in general have undermined this common framework, broadened the internal fissure, and significantly weakened the accepted mechanisms for resolving disagreements.
The proposed covenant derives from the growing sense of many people, from all sectors of Israeli life, that a new framework agreement between observant and non-observant Jews in Israel is required. Underlying the covenant is the recognition that it is crucial to create a basis for agreement among the various sectors of Jewish society, finding a workable joint path and entrenching it in legislation.
Israel Harel, the former head of the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District, initiated the discussions between Professor Ruth Gavison and Rabbi Yaacov Medan and suggested the novel course of a dialogue between two persons rather than a larger forum.
The Unique Features of the Gavison-Medan Covenant
The Gavison-Medan Covenant is distinguished from other similar documents in a number of ways.
The time dimension: Prof. Gavison and Rabbi Medan worked on the Covenant for three years—a much longer period than that devoted to similar endeavors. They conducted a through and comprehensive exchange of ideas about all of the controversial issues that divide the groups with which they are affiliated.
The process: The process conducted by Prof. Gavison and Rabbi Medan was quite different from that of parallel groups that have addressed the relations between the observant and non-observant. The other groups were large forums, whereas Prof. Gavison and Rabbi Medan worked one-on-one. Although reaching a broad consensus certainly requires the participation of many sectors and groups, large forums suffer from the tendency to produce vague solutions that bypass the most painful points in the short term and threaten the stability of the entire accord in the medium and long terms.
By working as a twosome, Prof. Gavison and Rabbi Medan were able to reach extensive and bold agreement about all of the controversial issues on their agenda. The authors of the Covenant compensated for the non-representation of other groups by bringing details of their evolving agreements to focus groups of public figures in search of feedback. Some of their criticisms were incorporated into the text of the Covenant.
The final product: Unlike other charters, which consist exclusively of practical proposals, with no accompanying explanations, Prof. Gavison and Rabbi Medan contributed lengthy introductions that state their personal credos as reflected in the entire enterprise. In addition to these introductions, the Covenant includes detailed and separate explanations of the practical proposals.
The separation between the joint proposals and the individual clarifications illustrates that the authors are not trying to homogenize the thinking of Israeli Jews. Although we must all have the same law, each and every group will retain its own values and lifestyles.