Dueling Letters

430 rabbis push back against Jews calling for cease-fire: ‘Not representative’

The open letter signed by Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis comes in response to a news report claiming broad support for a cease-fire within the U.S. Jewish community

Smoke rises from Gaza after an IDF bombardment on December 6, 2023 as seen near the Gaza border in Southern Israel. Calls for a cease-fire in the war, now in its second month, have divided the Jewish community.

Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Smoke rises from Gaza after an IDF bombardment on December 6, 2023 as seen near the Gaza border in Southern Israel. Calls for a cease-fire in the war, now in its second month, have divided the Jewish community.

Pushing back against a news report claiming widespread support for a cease-fire within the U.S. Jewish community, several hundred rabbis on Friday signed onto an open letter lambasting the story and arguing that a wide swath of the Jewish community is united against calls for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The story, published on Thursday by NBC News, highlighted a petition signed by 500 staffers of Jewish organizations — nearly 20% of whom signed anonymously — calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

“There is not broad support within the Jewish community for a ceasefire. Not now,” the letter written by the rabbis said. After being sent around on Friday morning, the letter had garnered 430 signatories from across the religious spectrum by Monday morning . Each of its three organizers came from different communities: one Reform, one Conservative and one Orthodox.

“It’s not representative of where the overall Jewish community sits today,” Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, a Conservative rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Closter, N.J., who helped organize the letter, told Jewish Insider on Friday. “What the NBC article did was to try and give an angle that represents a minority that will pit groups against each other, but it’s not representative of where we really find ourselves today.”

The rabbis’ letter argued that “the majority of pro-Israel Americans, especially clergy of all denominations, believe that a ceasefire before the eradication of Hamas leadership and a return of all hostages, is a grave danger to global security.” The one authored by Jewish organizational staffers did not mention Hamas.

A call for a cease-fire while hostages remain in Gaza and while Hamas has pledged to repeat the Oct. 7 terrorist attack “draws a moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas, and that is completely invalid, in my view,” Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow of Congregation Shaaray Tefilla, a Conservative synagogue in Carmel, Ind., said. 

In November, Jewish Federations of North America released a poll showing that only 16% of the U.S. Jewish community supported a long-term cease-fire in Gaza.

“I think there’s a major disconnect between some Jews, I think it’s the minority, and what’s taking place in Israel,” said Rabbi Josh Broide, a rabbi at the Orthodox Boca Raton Synagogue in South Florida. “I think that many of these people don’t see what’s really going on on the ground, or they haven’t spoken to Israelis that are living this war.

The pro-cease-fire letter featured several mostly anonymous signatories from rabbinical schools. In 2021, dozens of rabbinical students signed onto a letter calling on U.S. Jewish communities to hold Israel accountable for alleged human rights abuses; the letter faced widespread backlash and anger from pulpit rabbis. 

“I have grave concerns about the next generation of leaders and their connection to Zionism,” Kirshner said. “I think that we have done a significant disservice in the way we have trained Jewish clergy in many of the denominations and their connections to Israel.” 

This story was updated at 5 a.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023.

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