JPPI's Jewish World Dialogue

Exploring the Jewish Spectrum in a Time of Fluid Identity


This year’s Dialogue Process marks the third year that JPPI has been building a structure for a systematic discourse on issues that are at the core of the collective interests of the Jewish people globally. Exploring the Jewish Spectrum in a Time of Fluid Identity, discussing together how the different streams approach Judaism, is a main component of our project on Pluralism and Democracy in Israel and the Diaspora. We are grateful to the William Davidson Foundation for supporting this endeavor and encouraging a deeper understanding among Jews globally.

The 2016 Jewish World Dialogue was co-headed for the first time by an Israeli JPPI Senior Fellow in tandem with an American one. Shmuel Rosner and John Ruskay, representing the two largest Jewish communities in the world, started a personal conversation before widening it to 49 different seminars worldwide. They didn’t neglect the smaller communities, which many times present the most difficult challenges.

JPPI’s effort to enhance pluralism in the Jewish world has, from its inception, enjoyed the encouragement of Israel’s leaders, such as former President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and JAFI’s Chairman Natan Sharansky as well as the participating communities and Jewish organizations abroad. President Reuven Rivlin, who is dedicated to bridging gaps in Israel and world Jewry, launched a tradition with JPPI to bring together representatives of all the streams to study together Jewish texts. The Dialogue is approaching the point when it should culminate in a deeper results-oriented conversation at the highest echelons of leadership on how we should fulfill our common destiny.

The Jewish people is undergoing a period of radical change in its internal dynamics: generational transitions; the promise of some normalization of Israel’s situation in the Middle East; a shift in Jewish Identification and sense of community. The external environment of the Jewish people is changing radically as well: globalization; geostrategic shifts; value transformations; scientific and technological innovations; new manifestations of anti-Semitism. All these create new realities and challenges that provide the Jewish people unprecedented opportunities for thriving but also pose serious risks of decline.
Enriching the dialogue in the Jewish world between different communities, streams, and political orientations may help us take advantage of opportunities and avert dangers and threats.

We are continuing in making an effort to internalize and implement the lessons learned from each year of JPPI’s Structured Dialogue Process.

I want to thank the Institute’s leadership, and especially Stuart Eizenstat, Dennis Ross, and Leonid Nevzlin, who head our Professional Guiding Council, for their continuing commitment to, and support of, our work. Special thanks, once again, to the William Davidson Foundation for its confidence and trust.

Avinoam Bar-Yosef

Exploring the Jewish Spectrum in a Time of Fluid Identity

JPPI’s 2016 Structured Jewish World Dialogue reveals a remarkable consensus among engaged Jews regarding the need for the Jewish world to:

Be inclusive and welcoming toward all those who seek to participate in Jewish life.

Maintain selective communal norms when necessary for practical or symbolic reasons.

Be Inclusive

In virtually every community, participants in JPPI’s 2016 Dialogue, many of whom serve in positions of Jewish communal leadership, believe that welcoming all who seek to learn and participate in Jewish structures will strengthen Jewish life. There were scant voices advocating limiting access to Jewish programs. Twenty-five years after the American National Jewish Population Study1 revealed the substantial increase of intermarriage in an open society, most Jewish leadership groups strive to seed, nurture, and strengthen a broad range of quality Jewish cultural and educational programs and a communal environment that welcomes all who seek to participate. Jews around the world also expect Israel to offer a welcoming environment to all those wishing to participate in Jewish life and identify with the Jewish people.

Maintain Communal Norms

Along with the consensus on welcoming that emerged in the discussions, there was also a near consensus assertion of the value of maintaining communal norms in certain areas; most notably, criteria for senior communal leadership and for the Law of Return.

Dialogue participants recognize that denominational perspectives and local community criteria will prevail at every level in matters pertaining to membership and participation. Still, it was agreed by most participants that select senior leadership positions, particularly those with symbolic significance, demand a higher level of accepted “Jewishness” norms than does simple participation in activities.

Despite an overwhelming cultural consensus of welcoming inclusiveness, there was a parallel consensus in favor of maintaining certain standards. Said differently, it was acknowledged that individuals are living in an open, fluid context in which their search for identity and meaning is personal, idiosyncratic, and unique; still, the value of sustaining particular collective norms was recognized.

The acceptance is needed both to accommodate current realities, and is also believed by many Jews to be of value in and of itself. The norms are needed to maintain the Jewish people as a collective, and prevent it from disintegrating into a fragmented and diffuse collection of groups and individuals.