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Reform Movement Changes Name, Continues Move Toward Tradition; Rabbi Yoffie Challenges Israeli Settlements

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January - February 2004

At its 67th biennial conference in Minneapolis in November, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations changed its name to the Union for Reform Judaism and continued its movement toward more traditional religious observance.  

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the group, “signaled a heroic shift in North America’s largest Jewish denomination at its 1999 biennial with a worship initiative urging synagogues to use more Hebrew in prayer and reassess communal worship,” reports the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “His call came after a statement of principles by the movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis ... sought ‘renewed attention’ to Jewish commandments, or mitzvot ... For many of the 4,500 movement leaders and activists who gathered in Minneapolis, change remains an article of faith. Daily and evening prayer sessions ... echoed to crowds of dozens, with those praying donning yarmulkes and prayer shawls. The event also saw its first all-Hebrew prayer session.”  

In a major policy address, Rabbi Yoffie was critical of Jewish settlers in Gaza and the West Bank: “Not all settlers are extremists. But their leaders are trying to impose an endless war on Israel and the Jewish people. For these zealots, their right to live anywhere in the historic Land of Israel takes precedence over Israel’s democracy and, indeed, over her very existence. But I do not believe now, and I have never believed, that they speak for the Israeli majority.”  

Yoffie declared that, “In 1980 there were 5,000 settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. In 1993, the number grew to 115,000 settlers, and today there are 230,000 settlers. If settlement growth continues, in a very short time the Jewish and Palestinian populations will be so intertwined that separation will be impossible ... It is not our task to say what a final peace agreement should look like. But there will be no final agreement if settlement growth does not stop. There are those who say that terror must end first and that it is too early to consider such a step. This situation is far more complex. It is not too early; in fact, it is very nearly too late. With each passing day a two-state solution becomes more difficult....”  

Yoffie called on Israel to dismantle all illegal settlement outposts and to impose a settlement freeze. The Forward (Nov. 14, 2003) noted that, “Both are conditions that Israel accepted in President Bush’s road map to peace, but have not been fully implemented. ... Yoffie told his followers that he felt compelled to speak out against Israeli policy out of fear that the rapidly increasing population of settlers — their numbers have doubled to 230,000 during the past decade — would soon make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible. Yoffie warned that moderate Palestinians had become so disillusioned by settlement growth that they are now proposing the creation of a single Israeli-Palestinian state in which they would demand full citizenship. In that event, demographers say, Israel’s Jewish population would soon lose its majority status, ending the notion of a Jewish state.”  

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