Yoffie, Eric H.

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

YOFFIE, ERIC H.

YOFFIE, ERIC H. (1947– ), U.S. rabbi and leader of the Reform movement. From 1996 Yoffie served as president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (uahc), the congregational arm of the Reform Jewish movement in North America. He was the first president of the organization who was completely a home-grown product of the movement. Raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, where his family was active at Temple Emanuel, Yoffie became a national vice president of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (nfty). He graduated from Brandeis University – Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude – in 1969 and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1974. As a young rabbi he served congregations in Durham, North Carolina, and Lynbrook, New York. In 1980 Yoffie joined the uahc staff as regional director of the Midwest Council, in 1983 he became executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, and in 1992 he was named vice president and director of the Social Action Commission. He was elected uahc president in 1996 after the retirement of Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler in a seamless transition. In 1999, the Forward newspaper ranked Yoffie first in the list of top Jewish leaders, referring to him as a "tribune to the next generation."

The signature to Yoffie's presidency was a fusion of the Reform movement's commitment to social justice and Israel and, at the same time, to such internal issues as promoting adult Jewish literacy and spirituality among Reform leaders and throughout the movement as a whole. Calling for "Torah at the center," Yoffie has used his "bully pulpit" at the union's biennial conventions to launch a series of initiatives to strengthen congregational life in areas of communal worship, adult and religious school education, and Jewish camping. Under his leadership, the union added three camps in the U.S. and Canada. Continuing Schindler's support for outreach programs to intermarried couples, Yoffie urged Reform Jews to invite the non-Jewish spouses in interfaith families to convert to Judaism.

During his presidency, the union moved its long-time New York City headquarters from Fifth Avenue and 65th Street (across the street from Congregation Emanu-El) to more modern and spacious offices at 633 Third Avenue. Proceeds from the sale of the former building were used to fund programs for strengthening the religious foundations of Reform Jewish identity. He also threw his leadership behind a controversial campaign to change the name of the 120-year -old organization from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations to the Union for Reform Judaism (urj). This effort, which had failed repeatedly over the years, succeeded at the organization's 2003 Biennial in Minneapolis.

An outspoken champion of liberal values, Yoffie sharply criticized the administration of President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress for awarding tax cuts to the rich at the expense of the poor, and for government efforts to break down the wall separating church and state. In opposition to the religious right, he has defended reproductive rights for women and equal justice for gays and lesbians. He was the only national religious leader to address the Million Mom March in May 2000, urging sensible gun control. In 2004 after the Presbyterian usa voted to divest from certain companies doing business with Israel, Yoffie strongly protested the move but organized high-level meetings with mainstream Protestant leaders and intensified the union's efforts in the area of interfaith relations on both the national and local level. An ardent Zionist who reads the Hebrew press daily, Yoffie has expanded the union's work to strengthen Progressive Judaism in Israel, and has been a strong advocate of Jewish religious pluralism in the Jewish state. Reflecting on the work of the urj, Yoffie has stated: "We are a union of Jews committed to a particular vision of Jewish life: to spirituality, Torah, and social justice – the highest ideals of Reform Judaism."

[Aron Hirt Manheimer (2nd ed.)]