Yoffie Led Return to Reform Roots

Retiring Leader of URJ Stressed Torah, Temple and Outreach

Reform Leader: Rabbi Eric Yoffie, center, meets with President Bill Clinton at the White House. He leaves the Union for Reform Judaism after 16 years at the helm.
getty images
Reform Leader: Rabbi Eric Yoffie, center, meets with President Bill Clinton at the White House. He leaves the Union for Reform Judaism after 16 years at the helm.

By Jane Eisner

Published December 14, 2011, issue of December 16, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Less so was Yoffie’s call, announced two years ago, at the last biennial, for a commitment to “ethical eating” — he stopped short of saying that Reform Jews should keep kosher — in which he asked rabbis to formulate new guidelines for their communities. Evidently, that was taking tradition too far.

“It would be accurate to say that it created a lot of interest among a small number of people,” was the best spin he could put on it. Why? “It’s almost definitional — to be a Reform Jew is to put kashrut aside. It has a resonance that is hard to understand. I didn’t take this into account sufficiently.”

There have been other initiatives that were also less than successful. His push for more Reform day schools and his plans to increase Hebrew literacy did not yield much fruit.

Yoffie said that the biggest failure of his movement is one that it shares with the Jewish community as a whole: the growing inability to discuss Israel in an open, civil way.

“Some rabbis are afraid to even have a conversation about Israel in their congregations. It’s much harder now that it was 15, 30 years ago,” he said.

What’s changed, I asked him, American Jews or Israel? “Both, both,” he answered.

He’s changed, too. I asked him if he would have officiated at the 2010 marriage of Chelsea Clinton, a non-Jew, to Marc Mezvinsky, a Jew. No, was his answer — but because the ceremony took place on the Sabbath.

What if it had been scheduled for a Sunday? “I may have agreed in certain circumstances. Truth is, I’m not sure,” Yoffie said in a rare moment of ambivalence. He hasn’t been a pulpit rabbi since 1980, and he would not have officiated at an intermarriage then, but he’s clearly wrestling with the issue now.

“Intermarriage is a reality, and you’re not going to deal with it by running from it,” he said. “You have to say that there are boundaries — who wants to belong to a religion with no boundaries? — but you have to draw those lines to include rather than exclude.”

And his last prediction? “The synagogue is going to remain the central institution of Jewish life,” he said. “It’s the only place in the Jewish world that cares about the individual Jew, where you are created in the image of God no matter how much money you have. Nobody else does those things.”

Contact Jane Eisner at eisner@forward.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jane_Eisner


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.