Obituary: Avraham Ravitz

Born Tel Aviv January 13, 1934. Died Jerusalem, January 26, 2009, aged 75

By Mordechai Beck, February 12, 2009

Equally at home with his fellow Charedi rabbis and the man in the Israeli street, Rabbi Avraham Ravitz became an influential and effective MK, gaining widespread respect and affection.

The young Ravitz was happy whether being educated at Sinai Talmud Torah school or playing football in Tel Aviv’s Montefiore Quarter, where his strictly Orthodox family lived.

At 13 he joined Lehi, the extremist — or terrorist — anti-British underground freedom fighters’ group. With the establishment of the state and disbandment of militias, he served in the Israel Defence Forces.

He completed his rabbinic training at Jerusalem’s prestigious Hebron yeshivah before dispensing Torah himself.

His ability to combine elevated rabbinic language and street slang made him a natural choice to head Ohr Sameach yeshivah’s outreach programme for secular Israelis in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War.

The position became his base for building his reputation beyond the Charedi yeshivah world, as many popular figures in the arts and entertainment world became his protegés.

He also worked with a construction company — a crucial activity in the Charedi community — until 1988 when he was appointed by Rabbi Menachem Shach, head of the Israel’s Lithuanian yeshivah world, to lead a new political party, Degel Hatorah (Torah Flag), in a breakaway from Agudat Yisrael, the mainstream strictly Orthodox party.

Ravitz’s wisdom and personal charm once again proved indispensable. Not only did he lead the party for 21 years, he served on a variety of Knesset committees, including finance, housing and education.

He challenged his fellow MKs on the essence and meaning of a Jewish state. Yet one of his most fervent disciples was the largely secular Ehud Olmert, who became mayor of Jerusalem in 1993 and premier in 2006.

Olmert paid tribute to his long-time mentor for his contribution to public life through “striking a delicate balance between an uncompromising loyalty to Jewish tradition and a practical sense as befitted a man who knew that in public life there is no single absolute truth”.

One of Israel’s leading secular journalist, Gideon Levy, summed up Rabbi Ravitz’s goal as “a halachic community, rather than a halachic state”.

No less remarkable was the fact that he maintained a flourishing and hectic public life through years of ill health. After a kidney transplant, amputated foot and diabetes, he finally succumbed to a heart condition.

He leaves a widow, Avigail; 12 children and 77 grandchildren.

Last updated: 3:40pm, September 23 2009