Are Young Rabbis Turning on Israel?

No day of the year in Israel is more agonizing than Yom Ha-Zikaron—the Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars. For 24 hours, the country’s unceasing sniping gives way to a pervasive sense of national unity not apparent at any other moment; honor and sanctity can be felt everywhere.

Israel’s many military cemeteries are filled to capacity with anguished families visiting the graves of loved ones. Restaurants are shuttered. One of the country’s television stations does nothing but list the names of the 23,000 men and women who gave their lives to defend the Jewish state, some of them killed even before independence was declared and the last of whom typically died only days or weeks prior to the commemoration.

Twice on Yom Ha-Zikaron, once in the evening and once again in the morning, the country’s air raid sirens sound. On sidewalks, pedestrians come to a halt and stand at attention, and even on highways, cars slow and stop; drivers and passengers alike step out of their vehicles and stand in silence until the wail of the siren abates. For two minutes each time, the state of Israel surrenders itself to the grip of utter silence and immobility. During that quiet, one feels a sense of belonging, a palpable sense of gratitude and unstated loyalty that simply defies description.

I mused on this fact as I read a recent message sent to students at the interdenominational rabbinical school at Boston’s Hebrew College, asking them to prepare themselves for Yom Ha-Zikaron by musing on the following paragraph: “For Yom Ha-Zikaron, our kavanah [intention] is to open up our communal remembrance to include losses on all sides of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. In this spirit, our framing question for Yom Ha-Zikaron is this: On this day, what do you remember and for whom do you grieve?

… continued at

…  This posting is the beginning of an article in this month’s Commentary Magazine.  Commentary does not permit full articles to be posted elsewhere, but has generously made the complete text of the article available on its website without charge, even for non-subscribers.  To read the rest of the article, see the Commentary Magazine website at

For other articles referred to in this article and the exchange that they elicited, see also:

My original piece in the JPost:


My follow-up piece in the JPost


Dan Kaiman’s response:


Gil Troy’s response:


Scott Perlo’s response:


A blog response to Scott Perlo:


Justin Goldstein’s column in response on


Daniel Allen’s response:


Gary Rosenblatt in the Jewish Week:


Arnold Eisen in the Jewish Week:


Daniel Nevins in the Jewish Week:


Rabbis for Human Rights Response:


About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

7 Comments on "Are Young Rabbis Turning on Israel?"

  • Dr. Harvey Fader says

    We read that “there arose a Pharoah that knew not Joseph”, impying that he knew Hebrews to be slaves only. In much the same manner, young people (not only rabbis) see the IDF as a powerful, conquering force, but they ‘know not’ what the 48 War of Independence or the Holocaust that preceeded it means to Jews.
    The commandment to relive the Pesach as if WE were slaves in Egypt….perhaps should be modernized to one in which WE are each survivors of the Shoah, and NOW fight to ESTABLISH a Jewish State.

  • Susan says

    I read your article in Commentary. This problem with the young rabbis has been going on for a while, and it is hurting the American Jewish community. My husband and I live in a small city in the Bible belt, where there is a small Jewish community. It’s not like we have an overwhelming number of choices when we pick a shul. The Reform and Conservative rabbis here almost never defend Israel when unfair criticism appears. In fact, several are “J street” types. None are what I would call “unapologetic Zionists”, which is a great description of who we are. As a result, we feel we have no Jewish “home” now in our community. We like and respect the local Chabad rabbis, but we are not Orthodox. We are not alone, there are quite a few people in this community who have always been members in a shul, but now feel that a new kind of rabbi who does not believe Israel matters cannot be their spiritual leader. Of course, these rabbis like to play with words, and they would deny that they think Israel doesn’t matter, it’s just that in their minds Israel would have to live up to the impossible demands of Palestinians in order to be worthy of support, and it does not seem to matter to them that Israel would be taking a mortal risk. As you say, they just can’t believe that Israel is at risk. Apparently, Jewish history is not part of their course of study! I guess it goes to show that when human beings are confronted with two realities, one that is unpleasant but realistic, one that is pleasant but unrealistic, most of them will choose to believe in the pleasant unreality. I also believe that the failures of the rabbinical colleges must be considered in the context of colleges and universities generally in the United States, which have become monolithic leftist institutions pushing ideas like post-colonialism and conflict resolution that do a great deal of mischief when misapplied. This is more important than just an internal matter for the rabbinical colleges. They are affecting the future of the entire American Jewish community, and not in a good way. I know that I will not financially support in any way these institutions that produce these new rabbis who do not understand the importance of Jewish peoplehood. They may fit in with the local college community, but I think they have lost their way.

  • Steve Kalin says

    Thank you for your important article. I applaud you for having the courage to call the Palestinians what they are: The enemy. The rabbis you cite remind me of the leftist Americans during the Cold War who hated the protracted conflict with the Soviet Union and refused see the Communists as the enemy. In their minds, America was to blame and there would be “peace” if only we surrendered.

  • Victor Kava says

    I am a student at Hebrew College, learning Hebrew in the Ulpan. In our classes, the instructors are native Israelis who care deeply about the country. We have sung Hatikva. One student collects money for Magen David Adom. Another student will soon volunteer for the IDF. This is not a group of people who are unconcerned with Israel.

    While I am not in the Rabbinical School, I can recall from Torah reading that all people are descended from Adam. We are taught that both the Jews and the Arabs are cousins, descended from Abraham. At Passover, every year, we spill a drop of wine to recognize the suffering of the Egyptians under each plague. Thus we are conscious that our enemies can suffer, as well as our people. I understand this awareness to be a part of mainstream Jewish thought.

    We do not weep at weddings, we do not rejoice at funerals. While the Dean’s concern about human suffering is legitimate, the timing is not appropriate. While we may wish to be sensitive to the feelings of the Palestinians, we should not be insensitive to the feelings of Israelis.
    In the US, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, we remember the losses of both the North and the South. Perhaps in 150 years, all the losses in today’s wars in the Middle East will be remembered. But not today.

  • Bill Pearlman says

    Dan, I think its about generations and the different values that they have. I’m about your age. If you think back to then 9 out of 10 of the fathers were veterans. And had also grown up in the old time Jewish neighborhoods. You didn’t betray your family, your friends, your people, your country. You just didn’t. It was black and white. Now everything is gray.

  • lee berkson says

    hi daniel, absolutely “turning on Israel”–based on glazov’s “true believers” from his amazingly insightful book, UNITED IN HATE; the young rabbis agenda mixed with lethal “political correctness.” ostriches burrowing their heads in the sand fare much better. remember, daniel–unfortunately these “young” guys have been schooled by so-called teachers; and aren’t most teachers liberal to the core! teachers whose bible is the new york slimes, and who’d rather die than watch Fox–the only authentic TV news source! and surely they’d smash their radios to smithereens rather than listen to Rush, Coulter, Medved, Savage or Mark Levin.

  • Greg Gans says

    It is offensively ridiculous to label these people as anti-zionist. Their beliefs are more about being pragmatic, patient and reasonable, rather than brute force and iron fists; something we Jews have become very good over the years, but seemed to have forgotten in the case of Israel.

    It is rather disgusting that there is so much chastising of opinions that simply differ from the mainstream. I very highly doubt a single one of liberal rabbinical students on Dr. Gordis’ list would like to see Israel disappear. In fact, the argument should be made that these people are the ones making a greater effort to see Israel’s life prolonged. They envision Israel as a place that has made peace; a place where Jews can live amongst Arabs; a place where checkpoints are not mandatory just because you root Allah and not Hashem.

    The very nature of Dr. Gordis’ aggressive views prove his shortsightedness. It is evident to anyone with a simple understanding of the world that the situation Israel is in, is not sustainable. It is something that should be changed -hopefully by thinkers like Dan Kaiman- as soon as possible, in order for Israel to prevail and exist for one hundred generations, not just the next…

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