Global, Israel

Lehmann to Gordis: Don't Turn Against Future Rabbis

Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, president of Hebrew College, has issued a lengthy response to Rabbi Daniel Gordis’s Commentary column that accused young rabbis of turning on Israel.
Here’s a taste:

Most disappointing are Gordis’ recommendations for responding to the challenges that beset liberal rabbinical schools with regard to Israel education. While he admits that it will not be easy, he offers little upon which we can build a compelling educational plan. For Gordis, the selection of students, the curriculum and assigned readings and the year of study in Israel hold out the most hope for confronting the challenges that so concern him. The level of vagueness and generality in his list of suggestions is surprising, especially for a founding Dean of a North American rabbinical school. More baffling is his insistence that “raising the flag of particularity and distinctive loyalties high and unabashedly” holds out the most hope for developing rabbis who will be lovers of Zion. The adults that we teach in our Rabbinical School are not so shallow and anti-intellectual that they would be swayed by flag waving. Commitment to Jewish particularity will not be engendered by flowery rhetoric or demagogic charisma. The pledge of allegiance has long been discarded as the method to generate deep loyalty. Thin processes of socialization will not work to nurture the souls and stimulate the minds of adults who seek thick, authentic experiences of Judaism.

Read the entire response at

9 thoughts on “Lehmann to Gordis: Don't Turn Against Future Rabbis

  1. Read the article in Commentary to see what a dismal world Rabbi Gordis and the neconservative right want us all to inhabit. It is the world of ultra-conservative, wannabe Nazi, German-Catholic jurist Carl Schmitt, who defined “the political” on those very foundations upon which Gordis wants to hoist contemporary Judaism –a rigid, unyielding distinction between friends and enemies.

  2. At the outset I would like to join the chorus of those who think that Gordis was off-base. He seems to hold a view that if you support Israel from the Left (J Street, Rabbis for Human Rights, Sheikh Jarach demonstration) then you are, probably, outside of the Zionist tent.
    I am very troubled, as one who supports J Street, NIF, the protesters at SJ, by this. I am a Zionist. I am a Religious Zionist. I love Israel (not necessarily the policies and positions taken by the governments).
    I hate that we have been put in a position by the Right where we may feel a need to defend our credentials.
    It seems so odd, that as disliked as Price Tag may be, their Zionist bona fides are not questioned by most.
    The examples that Gordis brings to support his thesis are silly. Reb students who went to Ramala? Hey, when I was allowed (as an Israeli I may no longer go there) I used to go to Beit Lechem for Humus. Does that raise questions about my loyalty? I would hope not – but I suspect it may.
    In a previous blog Gordis questioned if J Street was outside the Zionist tent. It is sad when ZOA (Mort Klien and his ilk), Z Street (check them out if you are unfamiliar), not to mention Im Tirzu, feel free to determine who has the copyright on how to love Israel.
    That said, Gordis does raise some good points. The experience of rabbis who grew up with the experience of the 67 and 73 wars is informed very differently than those who came of age during the first Intifada and after.
    There may (maybe not) be some naivete in the thinking regarding the approaches of each side.
    The various rabbinical schools do identify as Zionist. There may be room to ask if it is appropriate to ordain a person who is a self-declared anti-Zionist. Certainly, if the observance of Kashrut is demanded by, lets say, a Conservative rabbinical school – then it may be reasonable to also demand that one accept the movement’s position, or the institution’s position, with regard to Israel(never a political position-even as the line is not always clear). Of course, just as there is much room on how one may observe Kashrut – so too there is a broad spectrum of approaches toward how one may view Zionism and building a Zionist vision.
    If one does not wish to observe Kashrut then a Conservative Reb school is not the place for Him/her. If one supports BDS, or a one-state solution, ze ought consider if a career as a rabbi is the right direction

  3. @ME
    So, here is the follow-up: What if, say, the Conservative movement were to one day adopt a post-Zionist stance (which isn’t so wild a thought considering that the Movement has accepted the ordination of gays and lesbians, which is more Halachically controversial a stance than post-Zionism.)
    Would it then be inappropriate for Zionists to attend Conservative rabbinical programs?

  4. @Jonathan: I can hardly guess what might be, an unlikely in my view theoretical scenario, and thus respond to your “what if” question.
    But I can respond in a different way regarding the present. When kids come on a summer trip to Israel with, say, USY or Ramah, and say that they do not want to put on Teffilin – I have no real sympathy.
    I completely accept the right of a Jew to decide ze does not want to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tefilin. But, if you feel that way, you do not sign up for a program where you know in advance that it is required. You should choose NIFTY or a program that does not demand prayer with Tefilin.
    So too one ought not select a rabbinical school if ze can not abide the philosophy/theology.
    I am not sure the Gay caparison holds. There was a process of the Law Committee to come to a decision (far more intense that with other issues). But nonetheless, the process and ultimate decision was – even though its impact was more wide spread – not a departure from any current process and approach of the movement.
    A better parallel to your question “what if one day they identify as post-Zionist” would be what if one day they publicly identify as “post-halachic.”
    But that would be then – I am commenting on what is now.

  5. @ME.
    Ok. I’m see what you are saying, although for me there is a contradiction between:
    So too one ought not select a rabbinical school if ze can not abide the philosophy/theology
    But that would be then – I am commenting on what is now
    which comes across (to me) as something like, “the Movement’s principles should be respected . . . as long as I agree with those principles.”
    But, to be fair, I don’t really know enough about Ziegler to comment on these things.
    And, as a side note, I do share some of your frustration. At least in this forum, there seems to be two schools of thought:
    (a) anti-Zionists/post-Zionists who say that the whole thing is a big mess, and we should just abandon any notions of Israel, and more or less move back to the Diaspora (and that is a very legitimate argument, IMO.)
    (b)rabbinical types/Jewish community types who aren’t necessarily Zionists but say that Israel is a fact, and they do support the 2-state solution . . . but then in this forum argue that, no matter what the issue, Israel is always at fault, from every event from 1881 through 2011–no matter what it’s always Israel’s fault.
    Of course that’s just my (mis)perception.

  6. Meir:
    How many kids do you think have that much choice in their Israel program? Do you think kids with Conservative-affiliated parents have the option of choosing a NFTY trip, or vice versa? It’s quite different when considering a Rabbinical school. There is real choice by a (theoretical) free agent.
    The problem (as I see it) is that Rabbis like Gordis want it both ways. They want the Rabbinical students to freely choose a Zionism that they find acceptable. They would feel uncomfortable forcing someone into an orthodox belief, but they want it there nonetheless.

  7. @Jonathan1 Tossing everyone in 2 camps is exactly the rhetoric that most of us are decrying here. Gordis has a long record of bullying and hasn’t let up in nearly a decade.
    If he wished to serve as Kapo to ferret out Rabbinic open mindedness, Gordis should have stayed Dean of UJ. Of course, there are reasons he did not and perhaps his misplaced anger is due to that. His words and methods are precisely the mean spirited, frighteningly divisive behavior that has come to represent the right, neocons and most unfortunately, the so-called ‘pro-Israel” camp.
    I believe that Jewish life in the Diaspora is valid, healthy and vital and that I believe communal resources should be invested in bolstering local Jewish life that requires no ‘Homa u-Migdal.’ It also means that I value Israel’s role in our people’s ongoing spiritual, cultural and national revival as much as the Diaspora. I believe in Israel’s right to defend its people and borders and do not feel it should be abandoned or disassembled.
    If that means I am a non or post-zionist, so be it, but it hardly makes me anti-anything except maybe anti-label. Down with labels! I respect the original Zionists and their varied philosophies enough to not label myself as one of them, as it denigrates those lived in, built up and when necessary fought and died for the Jewish homeland.
    I also resist that label of zionist and pro-Israel because they are outdated and useless terms. Am I moving to Israel and manning a post or driving a plow? No. Do I rise each day and make my pledge to the Israeli flag? I dont even do that for America (let alone Modeh Ani) and it doesn’t make me un-American Senator McCarthy… BTW, I do sing Hatikvah weekly, more than the Star Spangled Banner.
    Those labels, however, have also come to represent tactics and divisiveness of which I want no part and which bring our community discourse to appalling lows. In my view, everyone is for Israel unless they themselves declare otherwise- labeling enemies in our midst is a dangerous and vindictive sort of act that finds parallel in the quasi-facist quackery of the Tea Party, who also equate ‘different’ with ‘anti-American.’
    On Shavuot, a panel discussion of three young clergy members in Chicago revolved around the various issues they face in their gender, movements and relationship to Israel. One pointed took issue with the last question, going so far as to decry Gordis’ op ed, tactics and the moderator for even raising this question (who happened to be his mara d”atra). The problem is not of young Rabbis and their views on Israel, but this very line of inappropriate and disrespectful treatment!
    Until WWII most Rabbis from Orthodox to Reform opposed and resisted zionism. Israel is a fact now and must be dealt with the nuance, complexity and intellectual rigor Seminaries (and congregants) demand rather than fear of reprisal. The emphasis in Rabbinic training, especially in the conservative movement, has always been of an intellectual nature rather than an emotional one. As a great intellect himself, Gordis knows this and should respect the tradition.
    We do not need thugs declaring which thoughts are right and wrong, which Rabbis are good or bad. If we are deciding who is in the Israel tent, let the shibboleth be spoken by the individual.

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