“Who will say Kaddish for me”? The American Reform Jewish response to HIV/AIDS

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The AIDS epidemic tragically caused the death of millions of people. This article examines the role that the American Reform Jewish community fulfilled in responding to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, and what lasting effects, if any, these responses had, and how they related to Reform Judaism as a whole. In 1985 the General Assembly of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) 1 passed a historic resolution calling to abolish discrimination against HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) positive people. The Reform movement thus became the only formal Jewish institution to advocate an open discussion regarding congregants who lived with HIV or had AIDS, and presented a clear resistance to the AIDSphobic Orthodox agenda, which declared the disease to be a punishment from God for the “sin” of homosexuality. Based on the textual analysis of recovery and memorial prayers, rabbis’ sermons and community services activities and educational programmes, I argue that the Reform community served as a social agent for the recognition of people with HIV/AIDS. Thus, I conclude that the Reform response, which was arising from personal mourning and social needs, advocated and encouraged inclusion of the American gay Jewish community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-94
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Modern Jewish Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • AIDS
  • HIV
  • homosexuality
  • liturgy
  • reform Jewish community


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