'We have lost the skill of having sensible discussions about Israel,' says senior Reform rabbi in call for civility between British Jews

Laura Janner-Klausner tells Board of Deputies that nuance in discussions has been replaced by 'puerile put-down'


The senior rabbi of the Reform Movement has called for a new commitment among British Jews to derech eretz (civility and decency), with more open collaboration between the community’s different religious streams.

In an address to the Board of Deputies, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner described the 1998 “Stanmore Accords” - the agreement governing Orthodox-Progressive relations in the community - as “moribund”.

There was a need, she said, for a “derech eretz manifesto - a manifesto of acting properly, courteously, restoring dignity”.

She told deputies that nuance in communal discussions had been replaced by “puerile put-down”.

Rabbi Janner-Klausner went on: “We seem to have lost the skill of having sensible discussions about Israel. We prejudge intentions, we insult, we find it hard to acknowledge the truth on the other side of the argument. Whichever side, we label our fellow Jews, our brothers and sisters, as ‘traitors’."

A derech eretz manifesto “must commit us to working together and being seen to work and lead together. 

“Yes, it’s an improvement that we have stopped criticising different mainstream Jewish movements in public. But if that is the only way that we can manage derech eretz, then the bar of decency, of cross-communal collaboration, is horrendously low.”

She urged transparent collaboration between religious movements on “issues like interfaith, housing, the environment, the future impact of artificial intelligence on our communities and on society as a whole. 

“We have to have open conversations where no professional is banned from appearing in public with another, just in case, chas v’chalilah [heaven forbid] this is seen as any kind of approval of the other. This is disgraceful behaviour. 

“This is Anglo Jewry’s version of our emperor’s new clothes. Everyone knows there are professionals – leaders, educators, rabbis - who are forbidden to teach together, debate together or even be photographed for Mitzvah Day together.”

The Stanmore Accords ended a bitter period of religious in-fighting following the death of Reform leader Rabbi Hugo Gryn in 1997.

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