Rabbi Max Ticktin


“We were naive about the power of the American Jewish establishment and that came out painfully when they began to attack us and limit our activity.”

Peace Activism
1947 to 1978
Brit Shalom

Interview Dates
October 3, 2013
September 10, 2014
October 10, 2015

Aliza Becker

The Interview

Of the dozen rabbis associated with Hillel who were leaders in Breira, Rabbi Max Ticktin was the only one to hold a national position with the organization. Founded in 1973, Breira was the first national American Jewish peace group to support a two-state solution openly. Ticktin recounts the concerns that he and fellow Breira founders and activists had about the direction of Israeli policies. He also discusses why the group fell apart so rapidly in 1977. Finally, Ticktin relates the story of his being ‘outed’ for attending a meeting with two Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) representatives, while working as Assistant Director of National Hillel.Ticktin had long considered himself pro-Zionist. He initially sympathized with the bi-nationalist Zionism of Martin Buber, but in retrospect, by the time he traveled to Israel in the fall of 1947, “that cause was already lost.”He was a Hillel director from 1948 through 1978, serving as assistant national director in Washington DC for the last six of those years. “Hillel,” asserts Ticktin, “was an important… training ground for younger Jewish professionals who could maintain their own integrity and their own searches and…[ask] questions without endangering their livelihoods.”As a Hillel director, Ticktin went to Israel many times, where he met with leftist Israelis and Arabs whenever possible. Ticktin and sympathetic colleagues had begun to ask questions about emerging Arab nationalism. They wondered if Israeli nationalism had gone too far to the right by trying to negate such claims. “Many of these concerns of Breira founders began well before 1967, with militarism and human rights being major concerns for Breira leaders.”Ticktin’s perspective was shaped by his close friendship with Yehoshafat Harkabi, who had served as chief of Israeli military intelligence from 1955 to 1959 and afterward became a professor of International Relations and Middle East Studies. He was supportive of the creation of a Palestinian state and wrote extensively about the need to rethink the old ideology and the dangers of militarism.


Rabbi Max Ticktin was born in Philadelphia in 1922, one year after his family immigrated to the U.S. He also had family that had settled in Mandatatory Palestine in the 1880s. Ticktin did his rabbinical studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

In 1947, Ticktin founded a short-lived support organization for the bi-nationalist organization Brit Shalom. He and his wife Esther went to Hebrew University in the fall of 1947, where he met the famous intellectuals affiliated with the University– Gershom Scholem, Joseph Klausner, Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, and others. Classes were cancelled shortly afterwards they arrived, however, due to the violence, and Ticktin joined the Haganah.

Ticktin and Esther had tea with Professor Buber (after having had a meeting with President Judah Magnes) one day before leaving Jerusalem. “He wanted to talk about the difficulties Buber had…in maintaining contacts with Arab intellectuals. They were in great personal danger then if people knew in their circles that they were meeting with Jews. He was quite saddened by that.” Ticktin and his wife left Israel in Spring of 1948 due to his wife’s pregnancy.

Ticktin worked as the Hillel rabbi at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Chicago from 1948 to 1972 and as the Assistant Director of National Hillel in Washington, DC until 1978. He then became a professor of Hebrew and Yiddish Literature at George Washington University, where he remained until 2014. Ticktin was a founder of Breira in 1973 and served on the board until the organization closed in 1977.