Reform leader seeks sympathetic president

The President of the Union for Reform Judaism in the US finds Shimon Peres, Colette Avital more receptive than Reuven Rivlin

eric yoffie 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
eric yoffie 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism in the US, came to Israel worried and is leaving worried. The Reform movement has several concerns that remain unaddressed, he said, especially the upcoming election of a new president. During his visit, Yoffie met with the declared candidates for the presidency. He said his meetings with MK Colette Avital (Labor) and Vice Premier Shimon Peres (Kadima) had been positive, since both agreed to recognize Reform rabbis. But his visit with MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) had been less congenial. "There were some serious differences of opinion and they were not resolved," Yoffie said. "A lot was left on the table. I hope I succeeded in putting into his head, and giving him a sense of how important these thing were to Diaspora Jewry. He didn't offer a final opinion though, and he wasn't ready to make a commitment." Rivlin saw religion through "Orthodox glasses," his spokesman said Thursday. "His view on these things is certainly more of the Orthodox vein," he said. "However, he said today that a guest is a guest. If he were to be visited by a Reform rabbi who asked to be called by that title, he would oblige - out of courtesy to the guest." But Yoffie said there were other elements to consider. "We need a president who is not just prepared to acknowledge rabbis from all the major streams as rabbis," he said. "We need a president who is willing to visit institutions from all the major streams of Judaism." Yoffie said an Israeli president had never made an official visit to a Reform congregation. "Reform Judaism is the largest religious stream in America," he said. "Those who serve in a largely symbolic and ceremonial role need to make the efforts that politicians can't always make to mend the rifts among Jews of different religious streams." Last June, President Moshe Katsav roused the ire of the Reform and Conservative movements when he refused to recognize non-Orthodox spiritual leaders as rabbis. "In Israel there was some criticism," Yoffie said, "but I don't think they knew how large a storm it brewed back in the United States. I came here worried and I am still worried. There are many people who don't have a positive or considerate attitude towards Diaspora Jewry." Yoffie said part of the problem might be that Israelis didn't know much about Reform Judaism. Currently there were 35 Reform rabbis in Israel, he said, with another six to be ordained this year. He said there would be 100 Reform rabbis here within 10 years, due to increased interest among Israelis. "Haredim will not embrace Reform Judaism," Yoffie said, "but for the masses of Israelis who are either secular or non-religious... for those who think that Orthodox or secular are the only alternatives, we have something to say to that."