The past two years have left indelible marks on the soul of America. We have become increasingly divided on every issue imaginable. Whether it’s how best to address racial injustice, how to understand the delicate nuances of gender and sexuality, whether to establish COVID-19 mandates, or which voices we can trust when it comes to vaccines and the pandemic, our rhetoric has become explosive and alienating almost without exception. We wear our outrage and anger more prominently than our compassion and understanding, which have become little more than remnants of a time barely recalled. Battle lines are drawn on every front, and we’ve stopped both listening and talking to one another. With societal cracks and fissures more apparent than ever, we’ve ceased to be a community in the truest sense of the word. 

It’s a painfully accurate description of the American landscape, even as we begin a new year full of prospect and possibility.

One would hope that the Jewish community would not emulate this cultural phenomenon, but be a staunch corrective to it. Jews, after all, have long been in the business of spirited argument, whether in rabbinic and theological or social and political contexts. Indeed, it’s become almost cliché to reference the Jewish tradition of questioning and the historical impulse to debate for the sake of debate (or the sake of heaven, as it were) as a hallmark of our culture. Why? Because in a time when the nature of our personal viewpoints and opinions has become a litmus test for belonging in spaces that value social justice, debate is much too dangerous a pastime. We behave, instead, as if one differing opinion will bring the whole house crumbling down. 

Are we truly so weak and brittle? Are our structures really so unsound? An idea that used to bind us together—the importance of differing opinions and the sanctity of debating those viewpoints—has now become the weak link in a long history of Jewish tradition, worthy of dismissal at least and rejection at most.

Below, you will read a statement by 18 rabbis addressing these concerns. These rabbinic leaders, along with the over 200 other rabbis who added their names in support, are concerned about “the current ideological environment and the increasingly censorious culture in many American institutions, including in many Jewish communal organizations and places of higher learning.” The statement expresses the growing concern that “some in our organizations and congregations feel stifled by the shrinking space of ‘permissible’ discourse and retreat into silence” and that stifling speech makes it “difficult, if not impossible, for society to formulate good policy, promote sound science, and resolve social tensions.”

Rabbi Amy Wallk, one of the original signatories, was “immediately drawn to the conversation” because it’s “exactly the Torah [she has] always preached.” But for Wallk, it is also deeply personal. She says: “I have felt shut down and marginalized in many Jewish spaces because I am a person who seeks multiple truths. As soon as someone presents one perspective, I wonder what critics will say. No matter what the issue—I have my doubts and I ask questions. And I have noticed that my questions and doubts are not always welcomed, which causes me both to question myself and those who are not welcoming.”

The rabbis’ statement is, for Wallk, very much about reminding our community about the importance of tolerance and deep questioning as well as “doubting and wondering.” Like many of the rabbis who signed on to the statement, Wallk’s congregation is in the political center, and includes Republicans and Democrats, as well as supporters of both J Street and AIPAC. “We have those who express their concern for racial justice by supporting BLM and others who care about racial justice issues but are unwilling to align themselves with the BLM movement,” she says. 

In a truly Jewish communal space, all of these voices would be given room to speak, space to breathe. But we know that is less and less the case. The fault lines grow deeper, and meaningful dialogue and discourse sometimes feel more like a fond or fleeting memory. Our discourse is not simply divided; it is under a full-fledged attack.

Rabbi David Wolpe, another original signatory, says, in fact: “Coming from a tradition that prizes honest and respectful controversy, I have been alarmed by the throttling of discourse. We should be strong enough to hear views we disagree with and even object to—respect doesn’t demand agreement.”

While the statement has resonated with many rabbis across the United States and Canada, it has not escaped criticism, some of which materialized on social media sites like Twitter. According to David Bernstein of the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, the “harshest and most concerning criticism comes from progressive rabbis from the liberal movements. It’s shocking and indicative of the problem” the rabbis who released the statement are working to address. Some of the signatories “have been called racists and transphobes by their colleagues” for signing on to this letter.

Bernstein continues: “The denominational leaders, who have often played a role in fostering a commitment to a single ideological stance among rabbis and congregations on these racial justice issues, now have to ask themselves: what can they do to ensure that some rabbis aren’t engaging in sinat chinum [‘baseless hatred’] and creating congregations completely disrespectful of divergent perspectives. I hope that they recognize it’s also time for a different type of reckoning.” 

In a cultural moment in which calls to reckoning are now an almost everyday occurrence, one wonders what a reckoning within the Jewish community might look like. Is this rabbis’ statement the beginning of such a reckoning?

As Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin says, “We need a robust conversation about public policy and Jewish affairs—one that seeks to listen and to learn; one that rejects demonization; one that, in the words of the Talmud, prompts us to build a heart with many rooms. There is too much heat. We need more light.”

Indeed. We need more light.

Statement from Committee of Concerned Rabbis

Dec. 7, 2021

Dear Friends,

We, the undersigned Rabbis in the U.S. and Canada, are concerned about the current ideological environment and the increasingly censorious culture in many American institutions, including in many Jewish communal organizations and places of higher learning.

One of our roles as Rabbis is to foster inclusive communities that welcome people of varied cultural backgrounds, stations in life, and ideological perspectives. While becoming more inviting of culturally diverse Jews, our institutions often fall short in welcoming Jews with varied viewpoints. Some in our organizations and congregations feel stifled by the shrinking space of “permissible” discourse and retreat into silence. Surveys show Americans self-censoring at record levels. Jewish organizations and synagogues are called to create a culture that welcomes a wide range of views. Indeed, it’s crucial that we stand against Sinat Chinam—baseless hatred—over differences in political viewpoint, which makes it uncomfortable for many to participate in congregational and organizational life, at a time when Jewish communal organizations are already facing significant difficulty in attracting Jews. We all need space to be tentative, to be wrong and change our minds, to wonder, to explore. 

Increasingly, the crowding out of unpopular opinions impinges upon society’s ability to address problems. The culture of disputation and debate in the Jewish world—argument for the sake of heaven—has been a hallmark of Jewish life, and key to creative Jewish survival. Constricting conversation on social issues, including sensitive topics such as race and gender identity, makes it difficult, if not impossible, for society to formulate good policy, promote sound science, and resolve social tensions. “Shema,” listen, is our watchword; learning to listen to one another is the foundation of our polity. The Jewish tradition advances the ideals of civil debate alongside an enduring commitment to pursuing goodness and justice. We honor open but respectful conversation, based on the highest ethical values of our tradition.

The ascendency of an ideology that in its most simplistic form sees the world solely in binary terms of oppressed versus oppressor, and categorizes individuals into monolithic group identities, is a familiar and frightening development for the Jewish People. In its contemporary form, Jews are stereotyped as privileged and Israel is marked as the oppressor, fueling the newest iteration of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Recent examples of this phenomenon abound. In the days ahead Rabbis and other Jewish leaders must articulate the dangers of this brand of antisemitism to the Jewish community and the larger society.

Original Signatories:

Emily Barton, Rabbi, Tifereth Israel Synagogue, Des Moines IA
Daniel Bouskila, Rabbi, Sephardic Educational Center and Westwood Village Synagogue, Los Angeles CA
Mark Cohn, Rabbi, Temple Emanuel, Winston-Salem NC
Joseph Edelheit, Rabbi, Emeritus Professor, St. Cloud State University, Minneapolis MN
Matthew Gewirtz, Rabbi, Congregation Bnai Jeshurun, Short Hills NJ
Jonathan Greenberg, Rabbi, Northbrook IL
David Ingber, Founder and Senior Rabbi, Romemu
Debra Newman Kamin, Rabbi, Am Yisrael Congregation, Northfield IL
David Kaufman, Rabbi
John Moscowitz, Rabbi, Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto ON, Canada
Scott Roland, Rabbi, Beachwood OH
Jeffrey Salkin, Rabbi, Temple Israel, West Palm Beach FL
Hal Schevitz, Rabbi, Congregation Or Atid, Henrico VA
Rona Shapiro, Rabbi, Congregation B’nai Jacob, Woodbridge CT
Amy Wallk, Rabbi, Temple Beth El, Springfield MA
Stuart Weinblatt, Rabbi, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Potomac MD
Alison Wissot, Rabbi, Cantor, Temple Judea, Tarzana CA
David Wolpe, Rabbi, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles CA

Additional Signatories (in formation):

Sarah Hronsky, Rabbi, Temple Beth Hillel, Los Angeles CA
Eli Garfinkel, Rabbi
David-Seth Kirshner, Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El, Closter NJ
Adam Wright, Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham AL
Russell McAlmond, Center for Human Equality
Bruce Dollin, Rabbi, Hebrew Educational Alliance, Denver CO
Matthew Abelson, Rabbi, Jericho NY
Ian Silverman, Rabbi, East Northport Jewish Center, E. Northport NY
Robert Goldstein, Rabbi, Washington DC
James Glazier, Rabbi
Daniel Levin, Rabbi, Temple Beth El, Boca Raton FL
David Markus, Rabbi, Temple Beth El, City Island NY
Samuel Stern, Rabbi, Temple Beth Shalom, Topeka KS
Idit Solomon, Rabbi, Palo Alto CA
Philip Scheim, Rabbi Emeritus, Beth David, Toronto ON, Canada
Samuel Press, Rabbi, Dayton OH
Robert Eisen, Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Anshei Israel, Tucson AZ
Rhonda Nebel, Rabbi, Congregation B’nai Israel, Danbury CT
Morris Allen, Rabbi Mendota Heights MN
Eliezer Havivi, Rabbi
Mark Finkel, Rabbi, Pine Brook Jewish Center, Montville NJ
Gerald Sussman, Rabbi, Temple Emanuel-El, Staten Island NY
Fred Guttman, Rabbi
Dennis Linson, Rabbi, Executive Director, Temple Judea, Laguna Hills CA
Yosi Gordon, Rabbi, Talmud Torah of St. Paul, St. Paul MN
Jennifer Gorman, Rabbi, Executive Director, MERCAZ Canada & Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism, Toronto ON, Canada
Andy Warmflash, Rabbi, West Orange NJ
Perry Raphael Rank, Rabbi, Midway Jewish Center
Morris Faierstein, Rabbi, Rockville MD
Sean Gorman, Rabbi
Aaron Gaber, Rabbi, Newtown PA
Joseph Potasnik, Rabbi, Exec VP, The New York Board of Rabbis NY
Carnie Rose, Senior Rabbinic Chair, Congregation B’nai Amoona
Lynn Liberman, Rabbi, St Paul MN
Simkha Y. Weintraub, Rabbi
Michael Rascoe, Rabbi, Temple Israel of Riverhead, Riverhead NY
Alan Cohen, Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Beth Shalom, Overland Park KS
Gershon Weissman, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Ner Simcha, Westlake Village CA
Azriel C Fellner, Rabbi, Temple Beth ElPatchogue NY
Max Davis, Rabbi, Congregation Darchei Noam, Minneapolis MN
Justin Held, Rabbi, Minneapolis, MN
Arthur Lavinsky, Rabbi, Retired, Phoenix AZ
Shalom Lewis, Rabbi Emeritus Congregation Etz Chaim, Marietta GA
Daniel Horwitz, Rabbi, Houston TX
John Crites-Borak, Rabbi
David Ebstein, Rabbi
Claudio Kupchik, Rabbi, Temple Beth El, Cedarhurst NY
Helene Kornsgold, Rabbi, Temple Israel, Charlotte NC
Loel Weiss, Rabbi
Andrew Bloom, Rabbi, Congregation Ahavath Sholom, Fort Worth TX
David Krishef, Rabbi, Grand Rapids MI
Joshua Ben-Gideon, Rabbi, Beth David Synagogue, Greensboro NC
Felipe Goodman Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom, Las Vegas NV
Aaron Starr, Rabbi, Congregation Shaarey Zedek, Southfield MI
Neal Loevinger, Chaplain, Poughkeepsie NY
Shai Cherry, Rabbi, PhD, Congregation Adath Jeshurun, Elkins Park PA
Lisa Malik, Rabbi, Wynnewood PA
Baruch Frydman-Kohl, Rabbi Emeritus, Toronto ON, Canada
Ita Paskind, Rabbi, Congregation Beth El, Norwalk CT
Robert Golub, Rabbi
Michael Gold, Rabbi, Tamarac FL
Michael Klayman, Rabbi, Great Neck NY
David Locketz, Senior Rabbi, Bet Shalom Congregation, Minnetonka MN
Michael Friedland, Rabbi, South Bend IN
Kenneth Berger, Rabbi, Deerfield IL
Jordan Hersh, Rabbi, Beth Sholom Congregation, Frederick MD
Daniel Alder, Rabbi, Brotherhood Synagogue, New York NY
Earl Kideckel, Rabbi, Congregation Beth El, New London CT
Adam Stock Spilker, Rabbi, Mount Zion Temple, St. Paul MN
David Eligberg, Rabbi, Temple Israel, Albany NY
Ahud Sela, Rabbi
Randall Mark, Rabbi, Shomrei Torah, Wayne NJ
Rachel Brown, Rabbi, Beachwood OH
Sarah Graff, Rabbi, Palo Alto CA
Howard Hoffman, Rabbi, Boynton Beach FL
Dina Shargel, Rabbi
Susan Tendler, Rabbi, Beth Tikvah Congregation & Centre, Richmond BC, Canada
Leslie Alexander, Rabbi, Calabasas CA
Josh Goldstein, Rabbi
Sandra Berliner, Rabbi
David Klatzker, Transitional Senior Rabbi, Temple Israel of Natick
Daniel Cohen, Rabbi, South Orange NJ
David Booth, Rabbi, Palo Alto CA
Bruce Block, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Sinai, Tenafly, NJ
David Vaisberg, Senior Rabbi, Temple B’nai Abraham, Livingston NJ
Shalom Bronstein, Rabbi, Jerusalem
Edwin Farber, Rabbi Emeritus Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus, Miami, FL
Michael Safra, Senior Rabbi, B’nai Israel Congregation, Rockville MD
Michael Pincus, Rabbi
Alan Londy, Rabbi, The New Reform Temple, Kansas City MO
David Baron, Rabbi, Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts, Beverly Hills CA
Ari Goldstein, Rabbi, Temple Beth Shalom, Arnold MD
Jonathan Fisch, Rabbi, Temple Judea, Coral Gables FL
Alexander Davis, Rabbi, St Louis Park, MD
Joel Pitkowsky, Rabbi, Congregation Beth Sholom, Teaneck, NJ
Mordecai Finley, Rabbi, Ohr HaTorah Synagogue, Los Angeles (Mar Vista) CA
Yafa Chase, Rabbi
Cy Stanway, Rabbi, Temple Beth Miriam, Elberon, NJ
Ron Li-Paz, Rabbi, Valley Outreach Synagogue, Calabasas CA
Ronald Roth, Rabbi Emeritus, Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Congregation B’nai Israel, Fair Lawn NJ
Neal Borovitz, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Avodat Shalom, River Edge NJ
Robert Gamer, Rabbi, Oak Park MI
Aaron Bergman, Rabbi
Asher Lopatin, Rabbi, Kehillat Etz Chayim of Detroit MI
Jill Crimmings, Associate Rabbi, Bet Shalom, Minnetonka MN
Kaya Stern-Kaufman, Rabbi, Temple Israel, Portsmouth NH
Marc Berkson, Rabbi, Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, Milwaukee WI
Steven Rein, Rabbi, Agudas Achim Congregation, Alexandria VA
Daniel Weiner, Rabbi, Temple De Hirsch Sinai, Seattle WA
David Glickman, Rabbi, Congregation Beth Shalom, Overland Park KS
Jeremy Kalmanofsky, Rabbi, Ansche Chesed, New York NY
Neal Katz, Rabbi, Congregation Beth El, Tyler TX
Neal Schuster, Rabbi, University of Kansas Hillel, Lawrence KS
Richard Agler, Rabbi, Oceanside CA
Shlomo Yaffe, Rabbi, Congregation B’nai Torah, Springfield MA
Rebecca Ben-Gideon, Rabbi, B’nai Shalom Day School, Greensboro NC
Bill Siemers, Rabbi, Congregation Beth Israel, Bangor ME
Jonathan Miller, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham AL
Andy Koren, Rabbi, Temple Emanuel, Greensboro NC
Mitchell Berkowitz, Associate Rabbi, B’nai Israel Congregation, Rockville MD
Brian Strauss, Rabbi, Congregation Beth Yeshurun – Houston TX
Max Nissen, Rabbi
Gordon Yaffe, Rabbi, Congregation L’Dor V’Dor, Little Neck NY
Reuven Taff, Rabbi Emeritus, Mosaic Law Congregation, Sacramento CA
Rachel Safman, Rabbi, Temple Beth-El, Ithaca, NY
Jonathan Blake, Rabbi, Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale NY
SaraLeya Schley, Rabbi
Jeremy Master, Rabbi, Sinai Temple, Springfield MA
Adam Watstein, Rabbi
George Barnard, Rabbi, Cincinnati OH
Alan Litwak, Rabbi, Temple Sinai of North Dade, North Miami Beach FL
Herb Schwartz, Rabbi
Paul Citrin, Rabbi, Retired, Albuquerque NM
Irwin Zeplowitz, Rabbi, The Community Synagogue, Port Washington NY
Elliot Dorff, Rabbi, American Jewish University, LA CA
Jessica Fox Epstein, Rabbi, Cantor
Scott N. Bolton, Rabbi
Allan Berkowitz, Rabbi, San Jose CA
Laurence Malinger, Rabbi, Temple Shalom, Aberdeen NJ
Yaron Kapitulnik Rabbi, Temple Judea, Palm Beach Gardens Fl
Joe Blair, Rabbi
Jonathan Infeld, Rabbi, Congregation Beth Israel
Sherre Hirsch, Rabbi, American Jewish University
Jack A. Luxemburg, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Beth Ami, Rockville MD
Kenneth Emert, Rabbi, Sun City Jewish Services, Palm Desert CA
Stephen Richards, Rabbi/Cantor Emeritus, Congregation B’nai Tikvah, Walnut Creek CA
Jordan Shaner, Rabbi, Cantor, Temple Sinai Congregation of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario Canada
Chaya Rowen Baker, Rabbi, Jerusalem
Paula Baruch, Rabbi, Cantor, Hamilton Ontario, Canada
Erez Sherman, Rabbi, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles CA
Nicole Guzik, Rabbi, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles CA
Daniel Wolpe, Rabbi, Flushing Fresh Meadows Jewish Center, Fresh Meadows NY
Elana Zaiman, Rabbi, Seattle WA
Dov Peretz Elkins, Rabbi
Dov Bard, Rabbi, Newtonville MA
Philip Pohl, Rabbi
Peter Kasdan, Rabbi
Michael Weinberg, Rabbi Emeritus
Dan Moskovitz, Rabbi
Lauren Berkun, Rabbi, Miami FL
Micah Peltz, Rabbi, Temple Beth Sholom, Cherry Hill NJ
Michael Weinberg, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Beth Sholom, Cherry Hill NJ
Dan Moskovitz, Rabbi, Temple Sholom Vancouver, BC – Canada
Peter Kasdan, Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El of West Essex, Livingston NJ
Matt Friedman, Rabbi, Antelope Roseville Jewish Congregation, Sacramento CA
Neal Gold, Rabbi, A Tree with Roots, LLC Natick MA
Gary Gerson, Rabbi Emeritus, Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion, Oak Park IL
Sarah Schechter, Rabbi
Rob Morais, Rabbi, Temple Anshe Hesed, Erie PA
Brian Stoller, Rabbi, Omaha NE
Laura Gold, Rabbi, Psychologist, New York NY
Debra Rappaport, Rabbi, Golden Valley MN
Aaron Bisno, Rabbi, Pittsburgh PA
Rabbi Debbie Stiel, Temple Solel, Paradise Valley AZ
Jacob Herber, Senior Rabbi, Herzl-Ner Tamid, Mercer Island WA
Steven Morgen, Rabbi, Congregation Beth Yeshurun, Houston TX
Evan Ravski, Rabbi, Synagogue Emanu-El, Charleston SC
Scott Hausman-Weiss, Rabbi, Shma Koleinu, Houston TX
Mark Mahler, Rabbi, Pittsburgh PA
Jonathan Biatch, Rabbi, Temple Beth El, Madison WI
Joshua Gruenberg, Rabbi, Chizuk Amuno Congregation & Schools, Baltimore MD
Iscah Waldman, Rabbi, Dept. Chair of Judaics, Golda Och Academy, Teaneck NJ
Audrey Korotkin, Rabbi, Ph.D., Altoona PA
Jonathan Aaron, Rabbi, Los Angeles CA
Haim Ovadia, Rabbi, SephardciU, Potomac MD
Donna Friedman, Rabbi, West Palm Beach FL
Sharon Mars, Rabbi, Temple Israel, Columbus OH
Andy Green, Rabbi, Congregation Or Tzion, Scottsdale AZ
Joshua Ginsberg, Rabbi, Columbus OH
Michal Shekel, Rabbi, Har Tikvah, Brampton ON
Erica Gerson, Rabbi, New York, NY
Donald Berlin, Rabbi, Bethesda MD
Michael Datz, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple B’rith Sholom, Springfield IL
Gideon Estes, Rabbi, Congregation Or Ami, Houston TX
Manes Kogan, Rabbi, Hillcrest Jewish Center, Fresh Meadows NY
Steven Abraham, Rabbi, Beth El Synagogue, Omaha NE
Jeff Cymet, Rabbi, The New Kehila of Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv
Julie Jacobs, Cantor, Beth David Congregation, Miami FL
Adam Roffman, Rabbi, Congregation Shearith Israel, Dallas TX
Craig Scheff, Rabbi, Orangetown Jewish Center, Orangeburg NY
Bat-Ami Moses, Cantor, Temple Israel, Bexley OH
Saul Strosberg, Rabbi, Sherith Israel, Nashville TN
Ken Richmond, Rav Hazzan, Temple Israel of Natick, Natick MA
Melinda Zalma, Rabbi, New York NY
Mark Zimmerman, Rabbi, Beth Shalom, Atlanta GA
Leonard Berkowitz, Rabbi, Retired, Boca Raton FL
Avis Miller, Rabbi Emerita, Adas Israel Congregation, Washington DC
Lon Moskowitz, Rabbi, D.D., Baywood Park CA
Arthur Weiner, Rabbi, Jewish Community Center of Paramus/Congregation Beth Tikvah, Paramus NJ
Jeremy Wiederhorn, Rabbi, TCS and NY Board of Rabbis, Westport CT
Jordan Cohen, Rabbi, Temple Anshe Sholom, Hamilton ON
Charles Klein, Rabbi Emeritus, Merrick Jewish Centre, Merrick NY
Joshua Kullock, Rabbi, West End Synagogue, Nashville TN
Kenneth Leitner, Rabbi Emeritus, Beth Sholom, Chandler AZ
Matthew Abelson, Rabbi, Jericho Jewish Center, Jericho NY
Yitz Greenberg, Rabbi, Senior Scholar in Residence, Hadar Institute, New York NY & Jerusalem Israel
Loren Sykes, Rabbi, Jerusalem, Israel
Lori Shapiro, Rabbi, Open Temple, Venice CA
Jay Perlman, Rabbi, Temple Beth Shalom, Needham, MA

Organizational Endorsements:

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America

This article was originally published by the Jewish Journal.


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