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Reform Group Preparing Its First Comprehensive Statement on Zionism

Nearly 100 years after the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution opposing the establishment of a Jewish state, the Reform rabbinic body has begun work on a platform that would throw theological weight behind the movement’s current pro-Zionist stance.

If approved by the CCAR, the platform would be the movement’s first comprehensive theological statement on Zionism. It is expected to include statements on the role of the Diaspora, the centrality of Israel and aliyah.

It may also address questions about the biblical covenant, Jewish peoplehood and the significance of the land, attempting to portray commitment to Israel as an integral element of Reform religious life.

Though the Reform movement has for several decades been characterized by ardent support for Israel, some within the movement expect that the platform — if passed — would function as the philosophical basis and practical outline for ongoing Zionist efforts.

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, who opened discussion on the platform at the CCAR’s annual convention in Chicago last week, said the document may also serve as a bridge connecting Diaspora Jewry to the burgeoning Reform movement in Israel, a link which he says is the movement’s “big historical test.”

Hirsch, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America and chairman of the 12-person committee charged with writing the draft statement, said there is hope that the platform will reinforce links between the Reform movement and Israel.

This hope is based in part on the widely held belief that identification with Israel is one of the strongest guarantors of Jewish continuity, he said.

Others say the statement will address the changing relationship between the Diaspora and Israel, brought about largely by the ongoing peace negotiations between Israel and its neighbors.

‘A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF STATE’

“A state that is at peace is a very different kind of state,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. “The questions we ask in the future will be different questions.”

The proposed platform is also part of a larger strategy to solidify the movement’s strong philosophical identification with Israel.

Hirsch said the Reform movement is readying for a projected larger Jewish population in Israel in the next century.

The committee to draft the platform is composed of representatives from the CCAR, the UAHC and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform movement’s seminary. All these groups will have an opportunity to ratify, or otherwise adopt, the platform.

A draft is scheduled to be introduced to the CCAR at its next annual convention, to be held in Jerusalem next March.

A final vote is expected at either the 1996 or 1997 meetings.

If passed, the CCAR platform would mark the virtual 180-degree turnaround in Reform thinking that came about after World War II and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Until then, while some individual Reform rabbis were committed to the establishment of a Jewish state, the movement as a whole remained determined that Jews could thrive as fully accepted citizens in the Diaspora.

Many charged that attempts to describe Jews as a people with national rights threatened their claims to full citizenship in their countries of residence.

In the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 adopted by the Reform movement, Jews were described as a moral body without fixed geographic boundaries, whose “great Messianic hope” was the establishment of the “kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all men.

“We consider ourselves no longer a nation but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of the laws concerning the Jewish state,” the platform said.

The Pittsburgh Platform also called for sharp breaks with traditional Jewish rituals, resulting in the diminished use of Hebrew in the synagogue and de-emphasis on holiday and Shabbat rituals.

Backlash from these breaks with tradition led to the CCAR’s 1937 adoption of the Columbus Platform, which called for a reinstatement of many religious rituals. It also affirmed a change in attitude toward Jews living in Palestine, describing “the obligation of all Jewry to aid in (Palestine’s) upbuilding as a Jewish homeland.”

But while the Pittsburgh Platform addressed a possible Jewish state, and subsequent resolutions touched on aspects of Zionism and Israel, the new CCAR proposal, if approved, would be the Reform movement’s first attempt to address these issues comprehensively in a platform.

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