Thursday, July 06, 2006

Rabbi/Mr. Yoffie

Rabbi Eric Yoffie was in Israel for the World Zionist Congress. Yoffie Is the Pres of the Union for Reform Judaism and a very important liberal American religious figure. The president of israel (a ceremonial position) refuses to call Yoffie by the title Rabbi due to Yoffie's non-orthodox ordination. How embarrassing for Israel that it is far exceeded by our own country in its religious freedom and openness. Here is an excerpt from Yoffie's letter to the URJ board:
At the end of last week, I returned from a two-week stay in Israel. I went to attend the World Zionist Congress and the Jewish Agency Assembly, as well as to meet with Israeli government officials and leaders of Israel’s Reform Movement.

My stay was an eventful one and quite different from what I had anticipated. As you probably know, much of my time was devoted to dealing with the disagreement between me and Israeli President Moshe Katsav. I usually visit with Katsav when I am in Israel; during these visits, he has refrained from referring to me as “Rabbi.” This time, therefore, I decided not to meet with him, and my decision was communicated to an Israeli reporter by a representative of Israel’s Reform Movement. I expected that, at most, the story would receive a paragraph or two in the next day’s newspaper. Instead, over a two-week period it generated dozens of articles and radio and television interviews in the Israeli media and considerable coverage in the Anglo-Jewish press here, most of it sympathetic to the position that I had taken.

I will not take the time now to discuss this matter at length. (Some reflections will appear in an op-ed article that I wrote for tomorrow’s Forward; we will make it available to you when it appears. Also, here is a link,, to an excellent op-ed in today’s Jerusalem Post, co-authored by Professor Steven Cohen of HUC-JIR.) I will simply note here that this incident demonstrates how little many Israeli leaders know about Diaspora Jewry. President Katsav, to his credit, was genuinely curious about non-Orthodox Judaism and asked many questions during our meetings in recent years, but his knowledge of Diaspora realities and sensibilities remains limited. An example: Despite the fact that every conversation I had with the President was in Hebrew, he continues to assert that calling me “Mr. Yoffie” in Hebrew is not a problem as long as the mail addressed to my office in English reads “Rabbi Yoffie.”

So basically, Israel's position on religious pluralism is repugnant. Another blemish in an area where israel should be a light unto the nation. Have we jews had too little experience with religious persecution? Why else would they revisit it in the one government typified by a jewish electoral majority.


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