One of America’s Most Prominent Reform Rabbis Is Taking a Stand for Zionism and for Judaism’s Religious Core

January 31, 2022 | Armin Rosen
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As the rabbi of Manhattan’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, one of Reform Judaism’s most prestigious institutions, Ammiel Hirsch has become an increasingly outspoken advocate of Zionism, Jewish peoplehood, and the notion that without rich Jewish religious content, Judaism will not endure. During the most recent Gaza war, he attracted attention when he condemned in no uncertain terms a letter from Reform rabbinical students expressing much handwringing over Israel’s supposed crimes, while making no mention of Israelis who had been stabbed or shot by terrorists, or were spending nights in rocket shelters with their families. Armin Rosen writes in a profile of Hirsch:

Reform rabbinic students had, in Hirsch’s mind, shown callousness toward their fellow Jews and flirted with a betrayal of their movement’s core principles. “How is it possible for current and future leaders of the Jewish people to write an open letter to the public in the middle of a war with missiles raining down on Israeli civilians—our people—without ever mentioning Hamas, the instigator of the war?” he asked. “How is it possible to write of ‘tears that flow’ without weeping for our own brothers and sisters, killed, maimed, and scrambling to underground shelters at all hours of the day and night?”

Perhaps Hebrew Union College had forgotten its purpose and grown overly tolerant of its own students. “We have a right to insist that some values and beliefs held by some American Jews are inconsistent with our values,” Hirsch said. “Our values” included Zionism, a stance the movement has codified in its various platforms and statements of purpose. “We are entitled to accept students to the rabbinic program based on values that we’ve defined for ourselves, and if somebody doesn’t accept those values we’re entitled to say, ‘go somewhere else to study rabbinics,’” Hirsch [said] in an interview.

As for the suggestion that Zionism is somehow at odds with ideas of social justice—the latter something also very near and dear to Rabbi Hirsch’s heart:

“The very Amos who said, ‘let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream,’ ended his book with, ‘I will restore my people Israel to their own soil and never more will I uproot them from the soil I will give them,’” the rabbi said. “So Judaism is this blend. It’s a mischaracterization to define prophetic values as having nothing to do with Jewish peoplehood, or not being rooted in Jewish peoplehood.”

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