JCPA study: Conservative & Reform rabbis fear expressing true views
NEW YORK—The Jewish Council for Public Affairs released a new study, “Reluctant or Repressed? Aversion to Expressing Views on Israel Among American Rabbis.” The report, written by Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Rabbi Jason Gitlin, project manager of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s ReFrame initiative, is the first large-scale survey of American rabbis’ connection to Israel and their challenges in expressing their views.
“American rabbis have a great deal of involvement and engagement with Israel. More than 90 percent studied there and an equal number said they were very attached. Talking about Israel is not just a part of the job for rabbis, it is a characteristic,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “However, though they care deeply about the Middle East and the Jewish state, there is a fear on both sides of the political spectrum—particularly among younger rabbis—that expressing their personal opinions may create a problematic and difficult situation in their synagogues and organizations.
“Three years ago, we launched our national Civility Campaign to encourage and foster respectful discourse in response to increasingly divisive conversations on Israel in Jewish communities across the country. This study shows that even rabbis are not exempt.”
Rabbi Gutow introduced the report on press conference call along with the co-authors of the report as well as JCPA Senior Vice President Martin Raffel and JCPA Vice President and General Counsel Ethan Felson.
“The diversity of views among American Jews and the increasingly tenuous position of congregational rabbis in a period of demographic decline among non-Orthodox Jews point to new levels of insecurity among rabbis in presenting their true views of Israel. Younger people are both more distant from Israel and more critical of its current leadership’s policies; the political economies of Conservative and Reform congregations are shaky; and younger rabbis, while still deeply committed to Israel, are even more dovish on Israel than their older colleagues. If anything, rabbis in coming years will be more likely to experience the cross-pressures and challenges related to speaking about Israel in their communities and other places of rabbinic work,” said Steven Cohen.
“We just concluded the Jewish tradition’s season of teshuvah, a process in which we work to repent and return to our most true selves. If we want rabbis to live up to this value, our communities must continue to find ways to empower those who are reluctant to express themselves openly about Israel whether because of age or political belief,” said Rabbi Gitlin. “Rabbis, as the survey reflects, are simply too informed and passionate about Israel to not have their honest voices guiding Jewish Americans’ engagement with Israel.
“In today’s atmosphere of often alarming political and cultural polarization there are few institutions engaged in public affairs work that embrace consensus and civility, particularly one that counts Israel as integral to its agenda. I believe the JCPA’s championing of these values gave rabbis the confidence to respond to the survey openly and honestly and with the belief that the results could have a positive impact on how Israel is discussed in our communities.”
A copy of the report can be found online here.
JCPA, the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community, serves as the national coordinating and advisory body for the 14 national and 125 local agencies comprising the field of Jewish community relations.