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October 3, 2015 | 20th Tishrei 5776
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First Non-Christian Address to Lutheran Assembly


Orlando, August 11—Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, today thanked the leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for its leadership in forging meaningful relations between Christians and Jews, highlighted the close relationship between the two denominations, and shared his thoughts with the delegates on a variety of current issues, including the Middle East and, specifically, the evil of terrorism that continues to plague Israel.

Yoffie, the first non-Christian invited to address the ELC Assembly, said, “The deliberate targeting of innocent victims has no defense. It is destruction for destruction’s sake, and it is born not of despair but of contempt. It is not ‘insurgency,’ or even killing civilians,” he said. “It is terrorism and it is evil, and the words must be used. If we forget that, there is nothing worth remembering.”

Mindful that the Lutheran Assembly will be voting on proposed positions on Israel in its Saturday sessions, Yoffie said, “What we have asked of our many friends in the Christian world is simply this: do not minimize the impact of terror and do not demonize or isolate Israel, as if, somehow, she alone were responsible for the current conflict.”

Yoffie told the delegates that the Reform Jewish Movement, the largest and most liberal branch of Judaism in North America, is committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Acknowledging the pain of the Palestinian people, he said, “The Palestinians must have a state. For peace to be achieved, territorial compromise will be required of Israel, and unconditional acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state will be required of the Palestinians.”

“While ‘Peace not walls’ [the title of an ELCA initiative] is an aspiration that we surely share, as long as the terror continues, we believe that Israel cannot be denied the right to a defensive barrier whose goal is to end the indiscriminate murder of her civilians,” he said. “The government of Israel, like all governments, is an imperfect, human creation, and we do not hesitate to criticize Israel’s actions when we believe them to be wrong.”

On domestic issues, Yoffie thanked the Evangelical Lutherans for their role in forging meaningful relations between Christians and Jews and for the ongoing cooperation between the Reform Movement and the Church in advancing the cause of justice in Washington and in confronting the challenges that face people of all faiths.

“As this critical moment in our country’s history, churches and synagogues and all people of faith must do what we have so often done before: summon America to a higher vision of its meaning and destiny,” he said.

“We share deep worries about the moral lives of our children. Sexually suggestive images flood the media, and reality TV gets more stupid and more offensive every day,” he said. “Still, when millions work full time but can’t lift their families out of poverty; when the gap between the rich and everyone else is wider than it’s been in more than a century; when jobs are less secure and health-care costs are out of control, we believe that people of faith need to be worried about more than personal piety and personal morality, as important as they are.”

Yoffie closed his remarks by citing the words Moses spoke, just before his death, when he turned to the children of the next generation and said, “Don’t hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land.”

“The Egyptians, of course, were the taskmasters and murderers of their parents. So how could Moses say such a thing?” Yoffie asked. “Moses knew that to build a society of freedom and hope, you have to let go of hate. That’s what Moses taught the children of his time, and it’s what we must teach the children of our time. I look forward to joining with you in this sacred task.”


The Union for Reform Judaism (formerly the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) is the central body of Reform Judaism in North America, uniting 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 synagogues. Union services include camps, music and book publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, educational programs, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, DC.


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