NEW YORK (Aug. 24)
Supporters of the Middle East peace process have launched a campaign to encourage rabbis to use their pulpits on the High Holidays to praise the recent steps Israel has taken with its Arab neighbors.
The Israel Policy Forum, a North American group advocating the peace process, has sent to 4,000 rabbis and rabbinical students from every religious movement a resource guide drawing on biblical, rabbinic and contemporary sources supporting peace.
“The peace process can’t be ignored,” said Gordon Tucker, rabbi of Temple Israel, a Conservative congregation in White Plains, N.Y.
Titled “Mipnei Darchei Shalom,” or “For the Sake of Peace,” it cites Jewish voices from the prophet Isaiah to Abraham Joshua Heschel, from Rabbi Hillel to former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in support of peace.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has endorsed the project.
In a letter enclosed with the booklet, the prime minister encourages rabbis to use the material “to educate our fellow Jews to act in accordance with Jewish values, and to preserve our unique identity.”
The Israel Policy Forum undertook the effort “to bring the peace process into religious communities,” said Jonathan Jacoby, executive vice president of the group.
“Rabbis are one of the most important groups of leaders in the American Jewish community and no other leader is in as close touch with as many American Jews as a rabbi,” he said.
The resource guide includes four articles — three of them by Orthodox Jews — addressing aspects of the peace process.
NO ORTHODOX RABBIS SIGNED COVER LETTER
The articles are by Avraham Burg, a Labor member of Knesset; Rav Yehuda Amital, who leads the Orthodox Har Etzion Yeshiva; and Ovadia Yosef, the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the Shas political party.
Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists in America, also contributed to the guide.
A cover letter introducing the packet was signed by 13 rabbis from the Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform movements.
Jacoby said that “it is disappointing that no Orthodox rabbis signed the letter.”
But he added that the response to the mailing had been “very positive” within the Orthodox community.
One Orthodox rabbi who was approached about signing onto the letter was personally enthusiastic but afraid that it would be too politically sensitive among his constituents.
The $15,000 cost of producing and distributing the resource guide was paid for by private donations raised by the Israel Policy Forum to underwrite the project.
One rabbi drew a connection between peace and the Torah portion read during Rosh Hashanah, in which Isaac and Ishmael, progenitors of the Jewish and Arab peoples, are introduced as they bury their father, the patriarch Abraham.
“Recent events promise coming together not for a burial, but for the renewal of life,” said Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, rabbi of the Reconstructionist/Conservative congregation Beth El Zedeck in Indianapolis.
“That promise is very much part of the High Holy Day spirit,” she added.
Both she and Tucker signed onto the cover letter.
In a related effort, the Reform movement’s Commission on Social Action sent to each of its 860 affiliated rabbis a memo urging them to speak from the pulpit about peace in the Middle East.
The memo also urges them to seek out local Christian and Muslim clergy to issue a statement about the common goal of peace.