Reform Judaism Will Lose Its Soul if It Forsakes Its Commitment to Jewish Peoplehood and Zionism

June 8, 2023 | Ammiel Hirsch
About the author: Ammiel Hirsch is the senior rabbi of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City and the former executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America.

According to a 2020 study, 2.1 million American Jews describe themselves as Reform, making the denomination—as it has been historically—the largest in the U.S. Yet Ammiel Hirsch, the rabbi of a major synagogue in Manhattan, believes the movement stands at a crossroads. He set the problem before an audience at a recent conference:

I fear that we are losing the soul of the Reform movement. . . . I worry—deeply—that increasing numbers of liberal young adults, including those entering Reform leadership, express indifference to Israel, or worse: opposition not to the policies of Israeli governments, but to the very legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise and the Jewish state.

To critique decision-makers is what Jews do. It is a sign of health, energy, and vitality. To turn against Israel; to join our ideological opponents and political enemies in castigating Zionism, is a sign of Jewish illness, an atrophying of our intellectual and emotional commitment to our people. . . . Given the growing hostility to Israel in our circles, liberal and progressive spaces, and mindful of the increasing disdain for Jewish particularism, it is not enough for us to proclaim our Zionist bona fides every now and again, often expressed defensively, and with so many qualifications, stipulations, and modifications, that our enthusiasm for Zionism is buried under an avalanche of provisos.

Reform Judaism occupies the seam in Western religious life, bridging both the universal and the particular. It is a good place to be. But, in truth, we have often distorted the balance between tikkun olam [“mending the world”] and klal Yisrael [the Jewish people], thus disfiguring Judaism’s unique approach, and contribution, to the world. . . . Loyalty to the Jewish people absent concern for all the families of the earth, is a distortion of Judaism. And tikkun olam divorced from Jewish peoplehood is not Jewish universalism; it is just universalism.

The speech can be viewed here (video, 39 minutes), and the full transcript is available at the link below.

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