Last March, the Union for Reform Judaism’s Executive Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for a phased withdrawal of most American troops from Iraq. Of course, in our large and diverse Movement, there were some who disagreed with all or part of this resolution. Some argued that the war on terrorism would be adversely affected by a withdrawal; some insisted that the region would be destabilized and Israel’s position undermined; and some feared that our departure would lead to a massacre of Iraq’s Sunni minority. All of these points were considered in the Movement-wide debate that preceded the vote, but in the end, our leadership concluded that the war in Iraq had made America less safe, weakened the U.S. military, destabilized the Mideast, pushed Americans in the direction of isolationism, and diminished our nation’s capability to counter the Iranian threat.
While we welcome a debate on these issues, a certain number of our congregational leaders made a different point, urging the Union to focus on spirituality, not politics. It is more important, they said, that we Reform Jews concentrate on Jewish education, worship, and Outreach than on issues of public policy.
I understand this argument, but I cannot agree. Reform Judaism came into being as a protest against those who insisted on limiting Judaism to matters of ritual and study. A central principle of our Movement has always been to apply the insights of our tradition to the real problems of the society in which we live. For Reform Jews, worship and study must always lead to active engagement with the world.
Of course, it is not easy to apply ancient teachings to contemporary issues. That is why we must display humility when struggling with these questions and remain open to dialogue with all who interpret Torah differently.
Still, when confronted with issues of great moral urgency, the Reform Movement has always spoken out. This was true in the 1920s and ’30s when we championed workers’ rights; in the 1950s and ’60s when we supported civil rights legislation; and in the 1960s and ’70s when we opposed the war in Vietnam. In each case, we heard passionate arguments urging us to avoid “politics,” but we proceeded anyway—studying the relevant Jewish sources, developing our positions, and advocating for our point of view. We were not indifferent to the complexity of the issues, but we felt that our ancient faith had something important to say on the vital matters of the day, and that we could not responsibly remain silent.
What was true then is true today. And this conviction is what draws so many Jews, young and old, to our ranks.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
President, Union for Reform Judaism