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Study Shows That Rabbis Are Reluctant to Express Their True Feelings about Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
December 2013

A Jewish Council for Public Affairs study involving 552 rabbis, the majority of  
whom identify themselves as liberals, found that one-third of those polled are  
reluctant to express their true feelings about Israel when they are speaking to  
their congregations. Eighteen percent of those reluctant rabbis described  
themselves as more dovish than they let on to their members while more than 12  
percent say they are “closet hawks” according to the study entitled “Reluctant  
or Repressed? Aversion to Expressing Views on Israel among American Rabbis.”  
Discussing the study, Washington Jewish Week (Oct. 10, 2013) reports the “About  
40 percent of the rabbis who are not totally frank with their congregants about  
Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cited fear of offending their  
listeners. Some rabbis said they were concerned about professional repercussions  
and others pointed to criticism from congregants. Some rabbis admitted to  
refraining from holding programming about Israel at their synagogue for fear of  
controversy or conflict.”  
With regard to Middle East policy, by a six to one margin, the rabbis in the  
study favored a freeze on Israeli settlements on the West Bank “to a great  
extent.” When asked to what degree they believed the Israeli government wants  
peace, 20 percent replied “to a great extent” while 41 percent said “a little,  
not at all, or not sure.”  
About 52 percent said the Israeli government wants peace more than the  
Palestinian Authority, and 48 percent “gave the two sides equal scores.” All  
responding Orthodox rabbis see Israel was wanting peace more, followed by 69  
percent of the Conservative rabbis, but less than half (45 percent) of the  
Reform rabbis.  
Rabbi Steve Gutow, JCPA president said that what he found “most compelling and  
surprising” was the large number of rabbis who took the time to participate in  
the study. “One third of the rabbis contacted responded. That is an unbelievably  
significant number.”  
In Gutow’s view, the large response could be attributed to the fact that the  
rabbis who are reluctant to speak their minds “wanted to get that out. They  
didn’t think it was a good thing.”  
In an article entitled “What Do Jews Lose when Rabbis Feel Compelled to  
Dissemble on Israel?” Emily Hauser, writing in the Daily Beast’s Open Zion  
section (Oct. 11, 2013) notes that, “The findings are entirely resonant with the  
experiences of rank and file Jews as well, and I would argue are a major reason  
why so many in the rank-and-file have chosen to remove themselves from communal  
life or give up caring about Israel at all … I agree with the report’s authors  
that the fact that so many rabbis feel they can’t be honest with their  
parishioner is ‘a cause of concern for a community that champions open and free  
discourse on key issues affecting it.’”  
Emily Hauser asks, “What do we lose when our clergy feels they cannot be honest  
us? What do we lose when political argument pushes out spiritual practice? And  
who have we lost along the way — which intellectual giants … how many Arnold  
Jacob Wolfs and Abraham Joshua Heschels — have broken down and walked away  
because we wouldn’t let them engage honestly with the challenges presented by  
seemingly endless conflict and occupation? In short: when we force our rabbis to  
lie to us, what are we doing to ourselves?” •

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.