The Reform movement rejected its anti-Zionistic beliefs long before the following denominational proclamation was issued in 1997. But, as the preamble states, this is the first platform issued by the major organization of Reform rabbis dedicated exclusively to the question of Israel and Zionism.
Accepted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis
June 24, 1997
In recognition of the centenary of the first World Zionist Congress (August 29, 1897), the Central Conference of American Rabbis hereby issues its first platform dedicated exclusively to the relationship between Reform Judaism and Zionism.
In 1885 the framers of the Pittsburgh Platform of Reform Judaism declared that they no longer expected Jews to return to a national homeland in Palestine. The Platform’s authors proclaimed: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and, therefore, expect neither a return to Palestine…nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.”
By 1937 the CCAR had reversed its stand on Jewish peoplehood, and declared in its “Columbus Platform” that “Judaism is the soul of which Israel [the people] is the body.” The document further states: “We affirm the obligation of all Jewry to aid in its [Palestine’s] up-building as a Jewish homeland by endeavoring to make it not only a haven of refuge for the oppressed but also a center of Jewish culture and spiritual life.”
This affirmation of Jewish peoplehood was accompanied by a reaffirmation of Reform Judaism’s universal message: “We regard it as our historic task to cooperate with all men in the establishment of the kingdom of God, of universal brotherhood, justice, truth and peace on earth. This is our Messianic goal.”
The CCAR returned again to the question of Zionism in 1976, asserting in its “Centenary Perspective”: “We are bound to…the newly reborn State of Israel by innumerable religious and ethnic ties….We have both a stake and a responsibility in building the State of Israel, assuring its security and defining its Jewish character.”
The “Centenary Perspective” also affirmed the legitimacy of the Diaspora and the historic universalism of Reform Judaism: “The State of Israel and the Diaspora, in fruitful dialogue, can show how a people transcends nationalism even as it affirms it, thereby setting an example for humanity, which remains largely concerned with dangerously parochial goals.” Here again, the CCAR embraced Zionism as a means of fulfilling its universal vision and its opposition to narrow nationalism.
A century after Theodor Herzl called for the creation of a modern Jewish state and nearly 50 years since the State of Israel joined the family of modern nations, the fundamental issues addressed in the previous CCAR pronouncements continue to challenge us, making this a fitting time to re-examine and redefine the ideological and spiritual bonds that connect Am Yisrael [the People of Israel] to Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] and to Medinat Yisrael [the State of Israel].
The CCAR affirms through this Platform those principles which will guide Reform Judaism into the 21st century.
I. Judaism: A Religion and a People
The restoration of Am Yisrael to its ancestral homeland after nearly 2,000 years of statelessness and powerlessness represents an historic triumph of the Jewish people, providing a physical refuge, the possibility of religious and cultural renewal on its own soil, and the realization of God’s promise to Abraham: “to your offspring I assign this land” . From that distant moment until today, the intense love between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael has not subsided.
We believe that the eternal covenant established at Sinai ordained a unique religious purpose for Am Yisrael. Medinat Yisrael , the Jewish State, is therefore unlike all other states. Its obligation is to strive towards the attainment of the Jewish people’s highest moral ideals to be a mamlehet kohanim [a kingdom of priests], a goy kadosh [a holy people], and l’or goyim [a light unto the nations].
II. From Degradation to Sovereignty
During two millennia of dispersion and persecution, Am Yisrael never abandoned hope for the rebirth of a national home in Eretz Yisrael. The Shoah [Holocaust] intensified our resolve to affirm life and pursue the Zionist dream of a return to Eretz Yisrael. Even as we mourned for the loss of one-third of our people, we witnessed the miraculous rebirth of Medinat Yisrael, the Jewish people’s supreme creation in our age.
Centuries of Jewish persecution, culminating in the Shoah, demonstrated the risks of powerlessness. We, therefore, affirm Am Yisrael’s reassertion of national sovereignty, but we urge that it be used to create the kind of society in which full civil, human, and religious rights exist for all its citizens. Ultimately, Medinat Yisrael will be judged not on its military might but on its character.
While we view Eretz Yisrael as sacred, the sanctity of Jewish life takes precedence over the sanctity of Jewish land.
III. Our Relationship to the State of Israel
Even as Medinat Yisrael serves uniquely as the spiritual and cultural focal point of world Jewry, Israeli and Diaspora Jewry are inter-dependent, responsible for one another, and partners in the shaping of Jewish destiny. Each kehilla [Jewish community], though autonomous and self-regulating, shares responsibility for the fate of Jews everywhere. By deepening the social, spiritual, and intellectual relationship among the kehillot worldwide, we can revitalize Judaism both in Israel and the Diaspora.
IV. Our Obligations to Israel
To help promote the security of Medinat Yisrael and ensure the welfare of its citizens, we pledge continued political support and financial assistance.
Recognizing that knowledge of Hebrew is indispensable both in the study of Judaism and in fostering solidarity between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, we commit ourselves to intensifying Hebrew instruction in all Reform institutions. Hebrew, the language of our sacred texts and prayers, is a symbol of the revitalization of Am Yisrael.
To enhance appreciation of Jewish peoplehood and promote a deeper understanding of Israel, we resolve to implement educational programs and religious practices that reflect and reinforce the bond between Reform Judaism and Zionism.
To deepen awareness of Israel and strengthen Jewish identity, we call upon all Reform Jews, adults and youths, to study in, and make regular visits to, Israel.
While affirming the authenticity and necessity of a creative and vibrant Diaspora Jewry, we encourage aliyah [immigration] to Israel in pursuance of the precept of yishuv Eretz Yisrael [settling the Land of Israel]. While Jews can live Torah-centered lives in the Diaspora, only in Medinat Yisrael do they bear the primary responsibility for the governance of society, and thus may realize the full potential of their individual and communal religious strivings.
Confident that Reform Judaism’s synthesis of tradition and modernity and its historic commitment to tikkun olam [repairing the world], can make a unique and positive contribution to the Jewish state, we resolve to intensify our efforts to inform and educate Israelis about the values of Reform Judaism. We call upon Reform Jews everywhere to dedicate their energies and resources to the strengthening of an indigenous Progressive Judaism in Medinat Yisrael.
V. Israel’s Obligations to the Diaspora
Medinat Yisrael exists not only for the benefit of its citizens but also to defend the physical security and spiritual integrity of the Jewish people. Realizing that Am Yisrael consists of a coalition of different, sometimes conflicting, religious interpretations, the Jewish people will be best served when Medinat Yisrael is constituted as a pluralistic, democratic society. Therefore we seek a Jewish state in which no religious interpretation of Judaism takes legal precedence over another.
We believe that the renewal and perpetuation of Jewish national life in Eretz Yisrael is a necessary condition for the realization of the physical and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people and of all humanity. While that day of redemption remains but a distant yearning, we express the fervent hope that Medinat Yisrael, living in peace with its neighbors, will hasten the redemption of Am Yisrael, and the fulfillment of our messianic dream of universal peace under the sovereignty of God.
The achievements of modern Zionism in the creation of the State of Israel, in reviving the Hebrew language, in absorbing millions of immigrants, in transforming desolate wastes into blooming forests and fields, in generating a thriving new economy and society, are an unparalleled triumph of the Jewish spirit.
We stand firm in our love of Zion. We resolve to work for the day when waves of Jewish pride and confidence will infuse every Jewish heart, in fulfillment of the promise: When God restores the fortunes of Zion we shall be like dreamers. Our mouths will fill with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy. Then shall they say among the nations God has done great things for them.
Pronounced: SHO-uh (long o), Origin: Hebrew, the Holocaust.