Ahavat Yisrael

A message to our movements

In Short

The primary purpose and mission of a rabbinical school is to train individuals who will serve as leaders and educators of the Jewish people. Central to the ability to guide, inspire and lead our people is the principle of ahavat Yisrael, (love for the Jewish People). 

Each generation must come to its own views through a process of education and dialogue. This is no less true in rabbinical school, where students and teachers continue the great traditions of our sages through debate and exchange. But we have discerned a trend among a consequential number of rabbinical students that cannot be classed under the rubric of healthy debate: hostility to the State of Israel and the principles of Jewish peoplehood.

The primary purpose and mission of a rabbinical school is to train individuals who will serve as leaders and educators of the Jewish people. Central to the ability to guide, inspire and lead our people is the principle of ahavat Yisrael (love for the Jewish People). 

We believe that one of the many roles of a rabbi is to support Jews and to bring them together, especially in times of division, polarization and external threats. Leaders and those who aspire to be future leaders of the Jewish people must possess and model empathy for their fellow Jews, which includes our brothers and sisters living in the State of Israel, and especially when they are attacked by a terrorist organization whose stated goal is to kill Jews and destroy the Jewish state. This is a foundational principle of Judaism, as expressed by Solomon Schechter, the founder of the Conservative movement as Klal Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish people. 

Yet during Israel’s war with Hamas in May of 2021, at a time when Israel sustained over 4,500 rockets in an 11-day period, nearly 100 students from America’s rabbinical schools signed a letter harshly critical of the Jewish state. The students went so far as to accuse the State of Israel of abusing its power by responding to rockets targeting Israeli civilians, of racist violence, suppression of human rights and the enabling of apartheid in the Palestinian territories. 

Articles have appeared in recent years describing the distancing of rabbinical students from Israel. The views of these future rabbis do not bode well for engendering support for our reborn homeland, à great miracle for the ages. Furthermore, this attitude is out of sync with the majority of American Jews, who support Israel and consider Israel an important part of their identity. 

We Jews embrace a diversity of opinions, including on Israel. There is a wide spectrum of views that can be considered Zionist, and the state is not immune to criticism. But a basic commitment to the principle of a Jewish homeland and the flourishing of Israel is how our people’s historic unity is manifested and expressed today and is an essential component of modern Jewish identity. 

Rabbis should build bridges between the two largest Jewish communities alive today, those of the United States and Israel. This entails cultivating an appreciation of Israel’s achievements as well as greater understanding of its historic quest for peace and the realities it faces. 

Rabbinical schools and yeshivot have standards and criteria for admission such as assessment of professional skills and scholarly potential, as well as conformity to movement ideology, values and behavioral norms. These standards are coupled with beliefs, actions or observances that would disqualify one from being accepted to a rabbinical school. 

Rabbis and rabbinical schools must respond to the current challenge of anti-Zionism coming from all quarters by affirming that they uphold the values of Jewish Peoplehood and klal Yisrael and will require acceptance of these principles by candidates seeking admission to their rabbinical seminary.

This means individuals who wish to become rabbis should exhibit a connection to Jewish Peoplehood and a belief in the right of the State of Israel to exist and defend itself from those who seek to destroy it. This principle should be a red line for our movements, and rabbinical schools should assess these qualities in candidates. 

This is not a political “litmus test.” Indeed, both in Israel and beyond, Jews have a wide range of opinions on Israeli policy and of the role Jews should play in the affairs of the Jewish nation. Criticism of Israel (including on the topic of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians) is legitimate and necessary. However, the ordination of rabbis who harbor anti-Zionist views contributes to the distancing of Jews not just from Israel, but from the Jewish people and Judaism. Adherence to the principles of self-preservation, exemplified in Zionism and in the very raison d’etre of the State of Israel, is critical in order to sustain and lead the Jewish people into the future. Rabbinical schools have an obligation to ordain individuals who are committed to these principles. These ideas and concepts should be incorporated into the curriculum in a more conscious manner. 

We write not to denigrate others, but out of concern for the future of the Jewish people, and our fundamental belief that ahavat Yisrael and Klal Yisrael must be at the foundation of anyone who wishes to be a leader of the Jewish people.  

We hope our proposals will be taken seriously and recognized as reasonable and essential by the ordaining seminaries, and look forward to dialoguing with seminaries representing the panoply of American Jewish life. 

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the founding rabbi of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md. He has served as the head of the Jewish National Fund’s Rabbis for Israel and is the founder of the Coalition of Zionist Rabbis for Israel.