One the issues he spoke about was his recent paper “Is a Halakhic State Possible? The paradox of Jewish Theocracy” (Published by the Israel Democracy Institute).
To many Religious Zionists (henceforth RZ’s) namely of those from the Mercaz Harav-Kook Yeshiva, their justification for supporting the Zionist enterprise rests solely on the idea that Israel is the birth pang of mashiach – reshit tzemichat geulatenu. RZ ideal Israel is one run by halacha, were Jewish law governs the social, religious and political spheres.
Avi sees things differently. I quote from Haaretz Temple and Knesset
Ravitsky believes (to a great extent following in the footsteps of Rabbi Yitzhak Abarbanel, 1437-1508) that Judaism contains no absolute religious commandment that determines the nature of the regime required by the Jewish state. The state's authority is needed to protect citizens' lives and to maintain the social order, and precisely in order to serve those goals, there must be broad social agreement - the essential idea being that the preservation of human life takes precedence over nearly all the Torah's commandments.
Ravitzky quotes the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren: "Human society, including the Jewish people, requires a political regime representing and applying relative justice, namely, temporary political justice, which enables the regime to maintain public order and security among mortals. One cannot rely only on the Torah's law of punishment, which represent the absolute justice, not influenced by the constraints of time, place and the level of human society.
Some examples Ravitsky gave regarding the quirks of halacha were fascinating. What would you do if you saw a man chase a woman into a cave with a sword, and then heard screaming, only to find the woman killed. Well, in a halachic state, the man could not be charged, for unless two shabbat and kashrut keeping witnesses saw the murder take place, and forewarned the culprit, he escapes punishment.
Also, the laws regarding theft are not nearly serious enough to deter the crime in today's world whilst the halachic tax system of the Government returning double of it receives would lead to a tax free world for 1 in 3 people. (I can see Kerry Packer, our most renowned tax dodger, lamenting his lack of support for a halachic state now.)
In regards to the possibility of harmony between Religious and Secular Israelis, Ravitsky spoke at length about the contention between these groups at a public lecture sponsored by the Australian Centre for the Study of Jewish Civilisation at Monash University.
He spoke about the infamous “Status quo” which was written in a letter from David Ben Gurion, in his capacity as Chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, to Rabbi J. L. Maimon, leader of the Agudat Israel in 1947. The letter stated
· Shabbat: It is clear that the official day of rest of the Jewish State will be on Shabbat; naturally the Christians and other religions will be granted the Shabbat on their days.
· Kashrut: All necessary steps will be taken to guarantee that any State kitchen for Jews will be kosher.
· Personal Status Law: The members of the Executive understand the importance of the question and the problems involved. All the bodies which are represented on the Executive will do all to satisfy the religious needs of the Orthodox, to prevent the division of the people.
· Education: The autonomy to the different educational systems (as now exists) will be guaranteed. No coercion from the authorities in matters of religion, and religious conscience will be applied. Naturally, the State will determine minimum studies in Hebrew, mathematics, history, etc., and will supervise them, but they will have the freedom to run the educational system according to their belief.
Ravistky discussed why both the Haredim and Socialist Zionists agreered to this document. In 1947, the Secular Zionists didn’t think there would be Haredim in 50 years, let alone ones who would want to study in yeshiva. Therefore, it was of little concern to Ben Gurion that a few hundred Haredim didn’t serve in the Army. The Haredim on the other hand, didn’t mind a few cars driving on Shabbat, as long as no public transport was running(still the case now in Israel except Haifa). What the Haredim didn’t anticipate, was that one-day cars would become very popular.
Both assumed the other would disappear, and both made their assumptions on false premises. So what hope is there for future harmony between these groups. Well, having already, argued that a halachic state is not feasible, one could say, what about a secular state? Ravitsky also rejects this idea arguing
Not only it is impossible, from the standpoint of Judaism, to contemplate a modern Jewish life unconnected with tradition, from the standpoint of the State of Israel itself, the desire to return to the Jewish-national past - at all strata and levels - can have no validity if this return is characterized by severing ties with the religious infrastructure, which is the basis of all the national and historical aspects of Jewish existence.
So perhaps our future is to continue on the path we are on. Namely, where the Godfearing and Godless stay at each others throats. This “tension” afterall is what keeps Ravitsky in his job. He loves it. The “tension” is also what keeps this blog going. Forever searching for answers to seemingly unsolvable questions.