Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

JTS Rabbis and Israel, Then and Now: The 2011 Survey of JTS Ordained Rabbis and Current Students

Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

JTS Rabbis and Israel, Then and Now: The 2011 Survey of JTS Ordained Rabbis and Current Students

Article excerpt

From June 21 to August 12, 2011, we administered an online survey of JTS Rabbinical School alumni ordained from 1980 to 2011 and current students. The analysis compared three cohorts: rabbis ordained by JTS in 1980-1994, those ordained in 1995-2011, and current students.

Younger cohorts are no less connected with Israel than older cohorts. The students score just as high as the recently ordained in such areas as following the news about Israel, having studied in Israel, and experience in Israel.

With respect to attachment, the oldest rabbis somewhat lead their younger counterparts and the students, but the differences are small. We see relative stability with respect to making/thinking about aliyah, feelings of attachment to Israel, and commitment to Jewish peoplehood. In every cohort, roughly 90% and more define themselves as Zionist, pro-Israel, and Israel-engaged.

On policy views we do find noticeable shifts from old to young. The younger rabbis are less favorably disposed toward the Israeli government's intentions; they express less sensitivity to external threat to Israel and more concern with societal issues and social justice; the younger rabbis lend more support to territorial compromise and less support to settlements; they express diminished favorability toward AIPAC and more positive views of J Street.

In short, younger rabbis and students do indeed differ from their elders and predecessors. But the difference is hardly about declining connection. Rather, the trends point to the emergence of a "liberal Zionism," one that bears many parallels with that advanced by Labor Zionists of the past, or many of the opposition parties in Israel today.


The recent discourse on American Jews and Israel would seem to call into question the abiding commitment of younger rabbis, especially rabbinical students, to Israel and Zionism. Among the many strands: the claim that younger Jews are more distant from Israel, largely because of intermarriage; the opposite claim, that younger Jews are as connected with Israel as their elders; the claim that an "illiberal" Israel and American Jewish establishment have made younger, liberal American Jews disaffected from Israel; and the claim that some significant number of non- Orthodox rabbinical students are disloyal to Israel.

On the broadest level, the Distancing hypothesis, advanced by Cohen and Kelman in 2007, argues that younger American Jews in general are more distant from Israel in a variety of ways, largely because of rising intermarriage in the younger generation:

Older Jews express considerable attachment to Israel, and very few are genuinely alienated from Israel. The same cannot be said for younger adult Jews. In sharp contrast to their parents and grandparents, nonOrthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders....

This age-related decline characterizes almost all available measures of genuine Israel attachment and thus cannot be attributed to measurement idiosyncrasy.1

To be sure, the Distancing hypothesis sparked a vigorous debate in the scholarly community.2 Theodore Sasson et al. contend that American Jews are "still connected," that attachment to Israel has remained stable over the years:

The key finding of the present survey is the stability of American Jewish attitudes towards Israel. Whether it is a direct measure of closeness to Israel or a measure of how important caring about Israel is to their Jewish identities, Israel is important for the majority of American Jews [Tjhere is no evidence that attachment to Israel declined.3

Since no Jewish Theological Seminary ( JTS) rabbis or rabbinical students have intermarried, the Distancing hypothesis obviously has no direct applicability to them. On the other hand, younger rabbis and students include some from intermarried homes. Moreover, one could argue that younger generations of Jews - even rabbis - operate in a social context influenced by the composition of their age peers, such that an overall decline in Israel attachment among younger American Jews may indirectly influence the thinking and feeling of younger rabbis and rabbinical students. …

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