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October 5: The Anti-Zionist Rabbi

October 5, 2014
Elmer_4Elmer Berger, the Reform rabbi who headed the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism from its founding in 1942 until 1955, died at 88 on this date in 1996. Berger belonged to the wing of Reform Judaism that was opposed to their movement’s adoption of the Columbus Platform of 1937, which altered Reform’s historical stance against Zionism. This stance, according to Jack Ross, Berger’s biographer, was based “on two premises: first that Judaism was a religion only and not the basis of an ethnic or national identity, and second, the renunciation of any messianic expectations, be it the coming of a personal messiah, the restoration of the Jewish state, or of the ancient sacrificial religion and priesthood.” “Certainly,” Berger said in a 1943 debate, “since the Dispersion we have not been a nation. We have belonged to every nation in the world. We have mixed our blood with all peoples. Jewish nationalism is a fabrication woven from the thinnest kinds of threads and strengthened only in those eras of human history in which reaction has been dominant and anti-Semitism in full cry.” In 1945, Berger’s book The Jewish Dilemma argued against Zionism and for assimilation along the lines of the Soviet model, which he naively hailed as “emancipat[ing] those very Jews for whom, previously, no solution other than Zionism would be efficacious, according to Zionist spokesmen.” The American Council for Judaism was marginalized and pilloried after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, yet it persists to this day as a rare, critical voice of Zionism in both theory and practice. “Most American Jews don’t want to leave America. They have no intention of seeking ‘normality’ by expatriating themselves to live in a ‘Jewish state.’ But in reality, it is a Zionist state and Zionism itself is an anomaly, a movement not to save souls but to seize land and gain power.” —Rabbi Elmer Berger