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Ruth Gavison

March 28, 1945–2020

by Mika Levy, updated by JWA Staff
Last updated June 23, 2021

A founding member of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, member of the Israel Democracy Institute and an advocate of human rights, Ruth Gavison is keenly aware of the internal conflicts of the Jewish State. In an effort to diffuse one of these tensions, Gavison collaborated with an Orthodox rabbi to formulate a "Covenant," a new social contract to govern communal interaction between religiously observant and non-observant citizens of Israel.

Institution: Ruth Gavison.

In Brief

Ruth Gavison was an Israeli human rights expert and law professor. A large number of Gavison’s many books and essays concern aspects of individual rights and identity. She wrote a great deal about the conflict between religious and secular people in the State of Israel, about the tension between Jews and Arabs in the state, and about the dilemma inherent in defining the state as Jewish and democratic. She also wrote extensively about the constitutional process in Israel. In addition to her academic work as a lecturer and researcher and her work in social organizations, Gavison was a member of various committees. Her work was amply recognized and awarded, especially her legal research.

Background, Education, and Teaching

A founding member of the Israel Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) since 1974, Professor Ruth Gavison specialized in legal theory, philosophy of human rights and the integration of justice, morals, society and ethics. She was an important figure in Israeli discourse on human rights, democracy, and Israeli society in general.

Gavison’s father, Moshe Gavison, was born in Jerusalem in 1910 and worked for the electric corporation. Her mother, Regina, was also born in Jerusalem, in 1912, and raised the couple’s three daughters. Ruth was born in Jerusalem in 1945.

In 1969 Gavison graduated from the law school of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, earning her bachelor’s degree in law with the highest grades in her class. During 1970 she clerked with Justice Benjamin Halevi in Israel’s Supreme Court and earned a BA in philosophy and economics at the Hebrew University. A year later, she completed her master’s degree in law (LLM) at the Hebrew University cum laude and joined a law firm. She began teaching at the university in 1969 and in 1975 completed her doctorate in legal philosophy at Oxford University, writing a thesis on the legal protection of privacy under the supervision of H. L. A. Hart.

Between 1978 and 1980 she was a visiting professor at Yale University Law School and was promoted to the rank of full professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1990. From 1990 to 1991 she also served as a visiting professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and between 1998 and 1999 she was a fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values.

Gavison became that Haim Cohn Professor of Human Rights on the faculty of the Hebrew University in 1984. She served as the chairperson of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) for a number of terms (1975–1977, 1982–1984, 1986–1987 and 1992–1994) and between 1996 and 1999 was its president. She has been a member of the International Commission of Jurists since 1997.

Career and Awards

Gavison’s main teaching fields were legal theory, legal process, judicial philosophy, human rights, law and ethics, law and society, religion and state and constitutionalism.

A large number of Gavison’s many books and essays concern one aspect or another of individual rights and identity. She wrote a great deal on the conflict between religious and secular people in the State of Israel, about the tension between Jews and Arabs in the state, and also about the dilemma inherent in defining the state as Jewish and democratic. In addition, she also wrote extensively about the constitutional process in Israel. In 2005 she became the senior consultant to the constitutional process in the Law and Constitution Committee, chaired by MK Michael Eitan. Gavison also wrote about legal activism and the place of the High Court of Justice in Israeli society.

A high-ranking member of the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) from 1997 to 2003, Gavison served as the director of an IDI program that related to the three main rifts in Israeli society: the religious/secular, the socio-economic and that between Jews and Arabs. In 1999–2001 Gavison collaborated with Rabbi Ya’akov Medan, an Orthodox educator, in formulating a Covenant that would serve as a new social contract between observant and non-observant citizens of Israel. The resulting publication, Foundation for a New Covenant among Jews in Matters of Religion and State in Israel, dealt with issues of citizenship, conversion, personal status, the Sabbath, and other topics that have been a source of friction.

In addition to her academic work as a lecturer and researcher and her work in social organizations, Gavison was also a member of various committees. In 1976 she was a member of the Kahan Committee on the issue of privacy, following which Israel’s privacy law was established in 1981. In 1983 she was a member of the committee on the privacy of information in governmental data-banks (chaired by H. Klugman). Between 1987 and 1990 she was a member of the public committee on religious-secular relations in Israel and between 1994 and 1997 she served on the National Committee for Scientific and Technological Infrastructure. Gavison also served on the Zadok Committee on press laws from 1996 to 1997 and from 1997 to 1998 she was a member of the Shamgar Committee on the Appointment of the Attorney-General and Related Issues.

Gavison’s work has been amply recognized. In 1997 she won the Zeltner Prize for excellence in legal research. In 2000 her collaboration with Rabbi Ya’akov Medan on the covenant between religious and secular Jews won them both the Avihai Prize, which was followed in 2002 by both the Tolerance Award of the Movement for Tolerance (Sovlanut) and the Jerusalem Tolerance Prize. In 2003 she received the Emet Prize for Law and Political Science, and in 2011 she was awarded the Israel prize for her legal research, the highest honor in Israel.

Ruth Gavison passed away on August 15, 2020.

Selected Works

Books (Hebrew)

Discretion in Law Enforcement: The Power of the Attorney General to Stay Criminal Proceedings. Jerusalem: 1991.

Human Rights in Israel. Tel Aviv: 1995.

The Constitutional Revolution: Reality or Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? Jerusalem: 1998.

Israel: A Jewish and Democratic State. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: 1999.

with Issam Abu Riyya. The Jewish-Arab Rift in Israel. Jerusalem: 1999.

with M. Kremnitzer and Y. Dotan. Judicial Activism—For and Against: The Role of the Supreme Court in Israeli Society. Jerusalem: 2000.

with Ya’acov Medan. Foundations for a New Covenant on State and Religion Issues in Israel. Jerusalem: 2003.

Books Edited (Hebrew)

Civil Rights in Israel: Essays in Honour of H. H. Cohn. Jerusalem: 1982.

Issues in Contemporary Legal Philosophy: The Influence of H. L. A. Hart (in English). Oxford: 1986.

with M. Kremnitzer. In Honor of Shimon Agranat’s Eightieth Birthday. Jerusalem: 1986.

The Freedom to Believe: Essays in Memory of Chamman P. Shelach. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: 1990.

Human Rights in Israel: A Reader. 3 vols. Jerusalem: 1991–1992).

with Daphna Hacker. The Jewish-Arab Rift in Israel: A Reader. Jerusalem: 2000.

Articles

“The Implications of Jurisprudential Theories for Judicial Election, Selection and Accountability.” U.S.C.L.Rev. 61 (1988): 2701–2746.

“Legal Theory and the Role of Rules.” Harvard J. Law and Public Policy 14 (1991): 727–770.

“Feminism and the Private-Public Distinction.” Stan.L.Rev. 45 (1992): 1–45.

“Legal Systems and Public Attitudes During Negotiations towards Transitions from Conflict to Reconciliation: The Middle East, 1992–1994.” In The Arab-Israeli Accords: Legal Perspectives, edited by Eugene Cotran and Chibli Mallat, 21–44. Maryland, USA: 1996.

“(Public) Law and (Private?) Religion.” In Laws, Values and Social Practices, edited by John Tasioulas, 165–190. Dartmouth, MA: 1997.

“The Role of Courts in Rifted Democracies.” Isr. L.Rev. 33 (1999): 216–258.

“Does Equality Require Integration?: A Case Study.” Democratic Culture 3 (2000): 37–88.

“What Belongs in a Constitution?” In Constitutions, Markets and the Law, edited by Stefan Voigt and Hans Wagener, 1–25. Cheltenham, UK: 2002.

“The Relationships between Civil and Political and Social and Economic Rights.” In Globalization of Human Rights, edited by Coicaud et al., 23–55. Tokyo, New York, Paris (2003).

a modified version is published in Hebrew: Social, Economic and Cultural Rights in Israel, edited by Rabin and Shani (2004).

“Constitutions and Political Reconstruction?: Israel’s Quest for a Constitution.” International Sociology 18/1 (2003): 55–73.

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How to cite this page

Levy, Mika and JWA Staff. "Ruth Gavison." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 23 June 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 27, 2022) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/gavison-ruth>.