Photo Credit: Jewish Press

British statesman Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930) is perhaps best known for the Balfour Declaration, his November 2, 1917 letter to Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild:

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of his Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet. “His majesty’s Government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

The declaration galvanized the Zionist movement into political and diplomatic action, and formed the basis for the League of Nations’ Palestine mandate. The Chofetz Chaim saw the declaration as “a heavenly sign regarding the forthcoming redemption of Israel.”

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Balfour’s interest in the Jewish question had begun when Theodor Herzl negotiated with Joseph Chamberlain, British colonial secretary, and Lord Lansdowne, foreign secretary, regarding Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael (1902-3). His interest in Zionism was revived by his meeting with Weizmann (1906) and grew more intense during World War I when, as foreign secretary, he issued his famous declaration. He was enthusiastically welcomed by the Jews when he visited Eretz Yisrael in 1925 to attend the dedication ceremony of Hebrew University, at which he delivered the opening address.History-013015-Balfour

The Balfour Declaration was not, however, embraced by all Jews. The Reform movement’s founding document, approved as the 1885 Declaration of Principles at the “Pittsburgh Conference,” stated that “we consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine…nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.” America’s preeminent Reform rabbi, Isaac M. Wise, was a vociferous anti-Zionist who as early as 1897 had denounced Herzl and Zionism. As such, it is not surprising that the Reform movement, which engaged in a defamatory campaign to smear and disparage the Zionist movement, was historically anti-Israel and anti-Zionist.

Displayed with this column is the original July 4, 1918 resolution of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the governing body of Reform Judaism, issued in response to the Balfour Declaration. This document, reflecting the unambiguous opposition of the Reform movement to the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, is an important footnote to the history of Zionism, particularly since contemporary Reform Jewish leaders argue that they are every bit as Zionistic as their Orthodox brethren, who base their Zionism on the very Torah rejected by Reform Jewish leadership. The resolution was purposely issued on July 4to emphasize Reform Jews’ bona fides as American citizens and their rejection of anything marking them as different in any way from “ordinary Americans.”

Though the CCAR supported the Jewish right to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael, it strenuously objected to defining Palestine as the Jewish homeland. The resolution argues that while Jews, like all people, have the right to settle wherever they wish, “Jews in America are part of the American nation…the ideal of the Jew is not the establishment of a Jewish state” (emphasis added). As Rabbi Samuel Schulman summarized at the CCAR Convention in Chicago (June 29-July 5, 1918):

…when [Balfour] used the phrase that implied there will be established a national home-land for the Jewish people, we tell him with reverence, and with full appreciation of what he intends to do: you misunderstand Israel as we understand it. Israel needs no home-land, because Israel is a religious community whose home-land is the entire world.

Rabbi David Philipson complained about “the Zionists” carrying on active propaganda to promote a Jewish homeland, and Rabbi Edward Calisch, chairman of the CCAR Convention – and speaking for a unanimous convention on this subject – concluded that:

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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at sauljsing@gmail.com.

3 COMMENTS

  1. In the Torah G-D said" I will bring you back to the beautiful land never to depart from it again….so men can say what they want but G-D`s word will not return to H-M empty…i am a Christian Zionist because i believe the prophesies of the Holy Scriptures

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