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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

ASPECTS OF AMERICAN JEWISH RELIGIOUS LIFE, 1897-1920: PART I

THE SYNOD IN THE UNITED STATES

Realizing the need for unity in observance, America’s first Jewish religious leaders, Leeser and Wise, both labored to create a national authoritative ecclesiastical body. From the 1840’s on every decade was to witness attempts to insure uniformity in religious practices, at least within the several Jewish denominations. Hope was held out that all American Jewish religionists could be subjected to some authority; there was talk even of a world synod—under American auspices, no doubt. The chronological sequence of uniformity-seeking religious conferences and organizations is impressive. Wise called a group together in 1855 in Cleveland; four years later a congregational union, the Board of Delegates of American Israelites was called into being; during the years 1869-1871 rabbinical assemblies met and talked in Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York, and Cincinnati. In 1873 the Union of American Hebrew Congregations federated a substantial number of synagogs in the Midwest and South; in 1885 the Reformers in Pittsburgh made a drive to lay down a common liberal platform and a year later the Orthodox reaction produced the Jewish Theological Seminary Association.

Talk of calling together an authoritative religious synod was heard more frequently in the decades of the 1880’s and the 1890’s; the Reformers solved one of their problems by publishing a Union prayer book; the right-wing traditionalists founded the Union of Orthodox Congregations in order to achieve a degree of unity. But every attempt to create a religious body with authority to legislate failed; organizations were established but they were devoid of power; the Jews would not compromise their religious autonomy. In 1899 the enterprising American Hebrew collected opinions on the need for a synod. Practically all the respondents rejected the suggestion. Rabbi Mendola de Sola of Montreal was one of the few symposium contributors who favored such a gathering. He thought the Zionist world conference might even develop into a Jewish parliament.1

The American Hebrew symposium probably induced the Reform rabbis to review the synod proposals. From 1900 to 1906 the issue, synod or no synod, became actuel for them. Enelow read a paper that incited considerable discussion. Some Reformers believed that a synod would help resolve the problems of theological differences, Sabbath observance, the permissibility of cremation, the reception of proselytes, intermarriage. The synodal scope became enlarged; religious issues were no longer paramount. The killings at Kishinev were traumatic; the Jewish people had to be helped. A national authoritative body was needed to deal with all problems of all Jews both here and abroad. There was a general dissatisfaction with the B’nai B’rith and the Board of Delegates on Civil and Religious Rights. They were deemed impotent. In 1905 when hundreds of Jews began to perish in the massive Russian riots the Central Conference published a source book recounting the efforts since the 1840’s to summon a synod, to create national religious organizations in the United States and Germany. This was Views on the Synod.

The drive toward unity, centralization of authority, intensified during the year of crisis, 1905. The alarmed East European masses here, concerned for their kin, reached out for effective representation and help. The Reform rabbis shifted their emphasis from calling for a religion-centered denominational synod to a larger representative organization that would adequately cope with American and foreign problems. And while the Conference was talking of a Central Jewish Association during the early months of 1906 the New York establishment stole a march on the rabbis and proceeded to fashion a new national organization, the American Jewish Committee, that wisely divorced itself from all religious issues. Of the almost sixty members in this new national body, five were rabbis, representing the three denominations. Two of those rabbinical leaders of the Conference who had sponsored the Central Jewish Association were put on the American Jewish Committee. For practical purposes this was the end of the Reform call for a synod, a Reform legislative body of laymen and clergy; the rabbis had no money, no personnel and it is very questionable whether any denominational body would have been able to sponsor an effective overall national association.

However the drive for unity, uniformity, denominationally or nationally, did not die in 1906 with the birth of the American Jewish Committee. The push for religious and folk consolidation grew with increasing intensity as the years passed and new problems and crises confronted American Jewry. In 1913 the Conservatives were finally able to put together their United Synagogue. At the outbreak of World War I Reform rabbinical leaders, unhappy with the American Jewish Committee because of its lay domination and its oligarchic structure, talked once again of an overall national association, not of elite individuals but of representative organizations. They hoped to participate in the making of peace on behalf of disadvantaged East European Jewry. These proposals of Rabbis Gries of Cleveland and Philipson of Cincinnati aroused no national interest; the country’s immigrant Jews had already taken action. By 1915 an American Jewish Congress was established to secure Jewish rights in Palestine and equal if not minority rights for Jews in the Slavic lands. In these efforts the American Jewish Congress was not without a measure of success. The Congress enjoyed widespread grass roots support; it did not interest itself in the religious problems of American Jewry; that was not within its jurisdiction. The tragedy of Europe outweighed all other considerations.2

THE ULTIMATE REASON FOR THE DRIVE FOR A SYNOD

It bears repetition: Why a synod? The gap between the Orthodoxy of the East Europeans and the non-Orthodoxy of the Central Europeans and natives stimulated many of the latter to attempt to determine where they stood religiously. Because of the threats of religious anarchy, defections to Ethical Culture and Christian Science, and disregard of the Sabbath, the Reformers wanted to establish religious standards. Alarmed by the Slavic masses with their disparate way of life the Reformers may have thought it necessary to present a common front. There was an unwitting drive by some liberals for authority, stability, a Reform halakah, albeit a flexible one. Yet the Reformers and the Orthodox too could never divorce themselves from an ever present ambivalence. They wanted to consolidate themselves denominationally but were equally set on affirming their identification with all other Jews. Very few made any distinction between religious goals and their hope for the physical survival of the people. Many if not most American Jewish organizations throughout the nineteenth century held firmly to this basic concept: save Judaism, save it my way, but save Jews first, unite them.

The Board of Delegates of American Israelites was an Orthodox association; the Union of American Hebrew Congregations was primarily a Reform agency but both made religion secondary. Cohesion at any price? Well, almost! Despite its apparent parochial character the synodal movement reflected a desire for close cooperation of all the Jewish denominations, of a desire even for international ties. It was always reaching out. The Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America (1908) attained at least a semblance of religious unity; American Jewry never did. Though the Reformers never succeeded in effecting a synod the root motivation behind their hopes, religious liaison with all Jews, folk unity, denominational conformity, never died. Whatever the form it might take, religious, secular, or a combination of both, Jews here were constantly looking for union, togetherness. Since “community” on a common religious platform was impossible to attain, Jewry settled for the next best, an overall defense organization, but even here the unity of action sought was never achieved. To meet the crisis in Russia the American Jewish Committee was established but even it failed to meet the need or the desire for one overall Jewish civic protection agency. It merely added a new association to the two already in existence. It did reflect the attempt of the East, where the masses and the money were to be found, to emancipate itself from the West, from the Union in Cincinnati and the B’nai B’rith in Chicago. It documented the shift in power to where power lay, in the East. By 1906 it had succeeded in redressing the balance in American Jewry.3

WHY THE SYNOD FAILED

The immediate aim of any proposed synod was religious conformity, a goal never reached by any of the denominations despite all appearances to the contrary. All groups shared a common aversion to any action that threatened religious self-determination. Most Reformers believed that a synod was medieval in its character, that it would stifle freedom of thought, that it would split Jews into sects. They finally recognized that decline in observance was due not to lack of organization and programs but to the seductions of modern critical thought. The Conservatives and Orthodox had this advantage; they could always console themselves that faced with the enticements of modern civilization they could fall back on the injunctions of the halakah: thus saith the Lord (or the rabbis)! Reform, faced with the antinomy of complete religious freedom for the individual and the alluring promise of conformity as the answer to anarchy, opted for rejection of religious authority. But as early as 1899 Max Heller, the New Orleans rabbi, intimated that the liberals actually had all the authority they needed; that power lay in the common agreement on practice heralded constantly in pulpits and press. There was a consensus and consensus is authority.4

ANTI-DEFAMATION AND CIVIL LIBERTIES

One of the prospective uses of a synod was that it would help Jews cope with the problems that constantly challenged them. Since they tended to make little distinction between the religious and the secular almost anything that affected the individual Jew was in the province of the religious. Whether religionists or secularists all Jews were sensitive to anti-Jewish prejudice, real or imaginary (Gentiles lumped all Jews together). Defense was every man’s business, but the Reformers assumed responsibility; of all Jews they were the most insecure. The Conservatives and the Orthodox, immigrants for the most part, were not as well organized as the natives and the “Germans,” not as articulate, not as influential, and perhaps, less sensitive. Protection against hostile encroachments was the job of the well-established national agencies, the Board of Delegates on Civil and Religious Rights, the B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Committee, but the rabbis in the Central Conference faced with immediate problems in their hometown communities felt called upon to address themselves to any threat to their status as Jews. The congregations and their religious leaders were sensitive to any infringements on their rights and immunities as American citizens; their well-being was at stake. Until the rise of the Anti-Defamation League (1913) the Central Conference was active in protesting ridicule of the Jew and the publication of “Hebrew” joke books. Though it was not its major concern the Central Conference worked with the Orthodox and the Conservatives when legislation threatened shehitah, the ritual slaughter of animals. Ever alert to violations of their rights, the rabbis, in 1904, authorized a Committee on Church and State.

The Jews watched the public schools where their children were constantly exposed to mind control. In the early years of the new century the rabbis set out to stop the singing of Christian hymns in the classes; they opposed Bible (New Testament!) readings and the use of textbooks with anti-Jewish content. Though defeated more often than not they sought to hinder the churches which, unwittingly at least, were determined to Protestantize the public schools. The Jews wanted to protect their young. It was immaterial to them that the Protestant strategy was not directed primarily against the Jews but the Catholics; the public system of instruction was to become a Protestant weapon to hold the parochial schools in check. In their church-state campaigns the rabbis were not without occasional successes. The Jewish clergymen in Mississippi succeeded in inducing the legislators to withdraw a bill making Bible reading compulsory. In their insistence on rearing a wall between the church and the state most rabbis were not absolute libertarians. They, too, wanted exemptions, courtesies for clergy. There was one exception, Moses P. Jacobson; he wanted to tax church property and abolish all governmental chaplaincies.

All Jews resented the blue laws; they harmed the Jews who suspected, probably not without reason, that they were touched by anti-Jewish bias. Sabbath-observing attorneys who lost two days in every seven, Saturday and Sunday, were consoled by Louis Marshall. He told a young lawyer he would be able to survive even if he refrained from working on the Sabbath and cited the example of eminent practitioners like Judge Myer S. Isaacs and Adolph L. Sanger. In 1905 the Union of American Hebrew Congregations appealed to the authorities in the big cities where immigrant children, men, and women, were beaten and even murdered. The national Jewish lay organizations passed resolutions condemning the persecution of their coreligionists in Russia, Poland, Rumania, and Palestine; they protested the Russian refusal to honor American passports presented by American Jews; they raised their voices against an illiteracy bill which was bound to affect Jews even though refugees for conscience were exempted from its provisions. The rabbis pointed out the injustice of the anti-Jewish Polish boycott; even American Jews were hurt, for the boycott was extended to this country by Polish immigrants; they refused to patronize American Jewish shopkeepers. More significant were the local civic defense efforts of rabbis like a Philipson in Cincinnati or a Krauskopf in Philadelphia. They were highly respected. Prior to the rise of the Community Relations Committees in the 1930’s it was often the local Jewish minister who performed notable service in rousing the public against the more blatant forms of prejudice.5

JUDAISM AND CHRISTIANITY: RELATIONSHIPS

Gentile prejudices against Jews were manifested on various levels. Social gospel liberals read German Christian works which solemnly announced that Judaism had been superseded by the new Christian religion of love; obviously then Judaism had outlived its usefulness; if it had been a truly noble faith there would have been no need for Jesus. Hostility to the Jew reflected in the gospels influenced Christians profoundly; this was inevitable. It was the job of the articulate rabbi in the towns and cities to defend Judaism and this is a task to which many addressed themselves. The rationalist Krauskopf was sharply critical of the miracles and myths associated with the birth and career of Jesus. Summarily he rejected the Christian contention that Jesus died to save mankind. The rabbis deplored Christian passion plays which depicted the Jew as the eternal deicide.

The rabbis knew that Christianity was a Jewish sect, that much of its ethics was rabbinic in origin; as realists they knew that it was imperative that Jews learn to live with their Christian neighbors. Never forgetting that numerically they were but an inconsequential part of the body politic, they were eager to foster close relations with their non-Jewish neighbors. Mrs. Sadie Kirsch, president of Richmond’s Beth Ahabah Ladies Auxiliary, sold doughnuts on the street during a Salvation Army Drive. The Central Conference passed a resolution attacking the Turks for the murder of Armenian Christians. Many liberal Christians acknowledged their kinship with the Reformers knowing that they had much in common. Charles F. Aked of the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church of New York (1908) wanted a Jewish millionaire to build a cathedral and a Christian to endow it; it was to be a sanctuary where all men and women could worship together. Most liberals, Jews or Christians, were more realistic than Aked; they nursed no visionary hopes of the speedy coming of a messianic age.6

Frightened, probably, by the specter of Catholic growth, even some of the more conservative Protestants were inclined to work with Jews; the latter were always willing to cooperate. Ever since the 1890’s various state and national interfaith associations had asked the Jews to join with them; with the new century People’s Churches were established in the larger towns where creedal differences were ignored and Jews were welcomed. The New York State Conference of Religions prepared a book of common worship in 1900 and invited Rabbi Gustav Gottheil to help edit it. In Rochester, the social justice devotee Rabbi Horace Wolf held a public dialogue with a local Baptist minister. The Christian spoke about the Old Testament; the Jew about the New Testament; their common subject was, The Great Agreements of Judaism and Christianity. Hundreds were turned away; there was no room for them. The rabbis of that generation, of that blissful dawn, gloried in their ecumenical dreams. Christians and Jews opened their churches and synagogs to each other after destructive fires; the Protestant Episcopalians meeting in national assembly in Richmond asked a rabbi to address them. Christians made liberal gifts to new Jewish sanctuaries. The activities of Philipson are quite typical. He spoke in private Christian schools, in colleges and churches; he addressed non-Jewish audiences on the life and work of Jesus, exchanged views with the students at the Meadville Unitarian theological seminary, and lectured in Cincinnati’s YMCA on the prophets of Israel. On Christmas eve, 1905, Maurice Feuerlicht of Indianapolis invited the Chinese ambassador to speak in his pulpit. After the talk the rabbi presented him with a gift of Graetz’s multivolume History of the Jews. On it was inscribed: “From a Congregation of Jews to a Buddhist on a Christian holy day.”7

Continuing a time-honored tradition, Protestant churches, evangelical, too, asked rabbis to speak in their sanctuaries. Jewish congregations frequently asked Christian ministers to come and help dedicate their houses of worship. Joint Thanksgiving Day services with Protestants were common in the new century. In 1899 Jews, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists joined together in Montgomery in prayer; this in the Bible belt of the Deep South. Occasionally the communion of love came undone. In Cincinnati, after the churches had agreed on a common Thanksgiving service, the evangelicals withdrew, annoyed that the Jews were campaigning against the singing of Christian hymns in the public schools. If the Jews don’t like it here let them go somewhere else, said a Christian minister; this is a Christian country. For Christians interfaith activity connoted attending Jewish services or inviting Jews to worship with them. In neither case was there any conversionist intent. Liberals among them were willing to acknowledge, tacitly at least, that Judaism was, is, a living universal faith. For Jews interfaith relationships involved amicable religious discussions on their differences and their agreements; above all for the Jew they implied a radical reevaluation of the place of Jesus. The historicocritical study of Jesus as a man, not God, was devoid of any hostility to Christianity’s central figure. The educated and cultured American Jew was able to view the historical and mythical Jesus without antipathy. Actually most of them were not interested in him; those who discussed his teachings acknowledged him to have been a Jew. Young Israel, the Sabbath School paper, told its youthful readers that Jesus was no God; it was sinful therefore to sing hymns to him or to celebrate his birthday, as if he were Deity. However, the youngsters were told that he was a great man.

There was hardly a Reform rabbi who did not at some time preach on Jesus. Some said his teachings were common to the Jews of his day, that he taught nothing new, that he was not an important figure in the history of his people. Others pointed out that the gospel picture of him is that of an ideal Jew even though it is almost impossible to portray the man as he really was. There were some who insisted that he was a rabbi, a great ethical teacher who still had something to teach modern day Jewry. Stephen S. Wise and Richard Gottheil hoped that the Sabbath schools would look upon him as a Jewish prophet and study what he had to say. For Enelow, Jesus was the most fascinating figure in history; the Jew cannot help but glory in what he has meant to the world. All this recognition, this adulation, was deeply resented by the Slavic immigrant masses. For them Jesus was the quintessential symbol of a religion that had butchered their parents, their children, their kin, and had driven them into exile.8

INTERMARRIAGE

The objective or sympathetic attitude of some Jews toward Jesus was not an assimilatory gesture. When Jews intermarried it was rarely because of devotion to Jesus or attachment to Christianity. Most intermarriages took place for purely personal reasons; the prime motivation was romantic love. Most Jewish leaders opposed intermarriage at least in principle. Even the radical rabbis of the nineteenth century refused to go along with out-marriages: Samuel Hirsch seems to have been one of the very few exceptions. Einhorn and Kohler were opposed; Krauskopf vacillated but finally decided against such marriages on social grounds; intermarriage increased the difficulties of achieving a successful marriage. His views were also shared by the radical California layman Harris Weinstock; more happiness could be hoped for if one married within the faith. In 1909 the Central Conference passed a resolution which declared that Judaism prohibited such unions in order to preserve the integrity of the religion. One suspects that many rabbis voted for this resolution in order to ward off the pleas of distraught parents who besought their spiritual leader to officiate at a mixed marriage; that made it more Jewish. This 1909 resolution helped many a rabbi to bolster his refusals to participate in a marriage if both parties were not Jewish. Puzzling is the fact that though the final vote on this very controversial subject stood at forty-two to two, ninety-seven rabbis had been in attendance. Did many keep silent or did the men go home early for reasons of their own? Leftist rabbis who were inclined to be permissive in the area of mixed marriages were compelled to move with caution; many of their congregants deeply resented such marriages.

In 1912 seven rabbis admitted that they performed intermarriages; this was only a small percentage of the members of the Conference. Two or three others said that they too would marry mixed couples in exceptional circumstances. In all probability several others officiated but were afraid to admit it. That same year the rabbis denied that intermarriage was on the increase but there is no doubt that it had been a matter of concern for years; the number marrying out was constantly increasing. Still the percentage of exogamous unions was very small compared to that of the years following World War II. Jews in the small towns found it difficult to avoid mixed marriages; in the North, Jewish men married Gentile girls; in the South, Jewish girls married Gentile men. The reason in both areas was the same; the Jewish men and women married out because often they had little or no choice; there was a shortage of acceptable mates. In theological terms the rabbinical rationalization for the refusal to officiate at a intermarriage was the imperative to implement the Jewish Mission. The Jew must survive qua Jew in order to rescue mankind morally, ethically, spiritually. A more compelling motivation is the fact that Jews nursed very strong in-group loyalties; they were proud of their past and determined to survive.9

PROSELYTES AND CIRCUMCISION

Most Jews offered a strenuous objection to intermarriage but many parents were reconciled when there was a conversion, hoping that the grandchildren would be salvaged. Going along with this line of thought many rabbis made conversion little more than a formality; circumcision was not demanded; very little study was required; all that was asked was a simple avowal of ethical monotheism and a promise to remain loyal to the new faith. Jews had little interest in making converts; they suspected the sincerity of the proselytes. When no marriage was envisaged by the Gentile who petitioned for admission into the Jewish community the rabbi tended to shunt him off to the Unitarians. As Emil G. Hirsch wrote to Edward N. Calisch: “We are liberal until a non-Jew believes us to be in earnest.”10

SOCIAL WELFARE

One of the major concerns of Judaism, the religion, was charity but by 1920 much, if not most social-welfare work was carried on by secular organizations and trained personnel, not by the synagog. Charity was no longer a congregational or rabbinical obligation except among the Orthodox where a leader like Bernard Levinthal was ready to offer help and hospitality to those in need. The one notable exception to this rule among the Reformers was Stephen S. Wise whose Free Synagogue, as it has been pointed out, carried on a program of social welfare in New York City. On special occasions, as in World War I, synagogs throughout the country were thrown open to the men in the armed forces; they were offered food and entertainment, as well as the opportunity to worship.

Fearful lest New York’s ghetto Jews, packed into one square mile, might turn to crime, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1903 endorsed the dispersal work of the Industrial Removal Office. Though undertaking no actual programs itself the Central Conference was very much interested in social-welfare work. It urged rival national organizations engaged in overseas relief to unite and thus improve their help for impoverished Jews in the European war zones. Here in this country the Conference did not find it necessary to work with Jewish alcoholics; obviously it felt that there was no problem on that score, but it did denounce those Jews who were in the white slave traffic. Very much worried by the increase in the number of Jewish criminals in 1907 it established a Committee on Dependents, Defectives, and Delinquents which functioned for several years. Trying to rehabilitate those already behind bars, it asked the rabbis to visit the prisons to set up religious services, to offer counsel, and to make sure that the men were accorded the religious courtesies to which they were entitled. Atlanta Jews did good work in the federal penitentiary, opening a Sabbath school and holding daily services for the inmates. When the warden in 1914 attempted to stop them they went over his head and appealed successfully to the attorney general. Ultimately the government itself provided the Jewish prisoners with a chaplain of their own. Whether this type of social service was helpful cannot be determined. It was certainly not harmful.11

SOCIAL JUSTICE

What turned the rabbi to social justice? By the first decade of the twentieth century a number of Reform ministers, emancipated from charitative chores, enlarged and broadened their social vision. The goal of these men was not only to help all those who had difficulty in coping with the new industrial civilization but to create a better world for all people in all lands. This was their conception of social justice. What influences moved the rabbis to this ideal? Biblical and rabbinical ethics were paramount. Many were ready to declare that there could be no religion without good deeds. This was sound Jewish tradition and practice and it fitted in well with current American thinking. The years from the 1890’s to World War I were years of protest against social ills, a period of ferment, socialism, populism, of muckraking. This was the Progressive Age when many Americans were at least conscious of political, economic, and social goals that might well further democracy and the well-being of the masses.

The strongest, most direct influence on the Reform rabbis was the Protestant social gospel. Leaning on the Jesus of the evangels, Protestant idealists set out to build a kingdom of heaven here on earth; the church had a responsibility to society. Individual Christian liberals going back to the sources from which Jesus drew, emphasized the humanitarian socially-directed teachings of the Hebrew prophets. One of these was Professor Edward C. Baldwin of the University of Illinois, author of Our Modern Debt to Israel (1913). He is the man who influenced Rabbi Benjamin (Big Ben) M. Frankel to build the Hillel Movement. Drawing their inspiration from the writings of the ancient prophets the rabbis envisaged the same goals as the preachers of the social gospel. By 1908 the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America had embraced a social creed that was written to counter indifference to organized religion and to win the loyalty of cultured liberals.12

JEWS AND THE SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT, 1890’S–1910

The Jews were not pioneers in the fight for social justice but neither were they altogether newcomers. Jewish laymen, men of business and affairs, labored as civic reformers; in the 1870’s they were very active in the effort to expose the Tweed Ring. There were always Jews in the larger cities who fought corruption in government. Though interest among the rabbis in the new social justice movement did not begin to manifest itself till the early 1900’s there were at least three distinguished pioneers, Emil G. Hirsch, Joseph Krauskopf, and Henry Berkowitz. What did these few pioneers of the 1850’s want? They wished to help organize labor, they wanted a six-day work week, elimination of the sweatshop, an improved penal system, and suffrage for women. They were conscious of the evils of imperialism, of the obligation of the affluent to provide for the underprivileged; property is to be held for the good of all. Fully aware of the horrors of lynching, rabbis and laymen made an effort to help the Negroes. Abraham Joseph Messing of Montgomery delivered a commencement address at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute but he found it necessary first to secure permission from his board (1905).13

The social justice interests of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations were minimal; as a body it represented typical American businessmen. It did, however, come out in favor of a Permanent Court of International Arbitration with authority to police its decisions (1898). Walter Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) was not without its influence on the younger men in the rabbinate. The Central Conference evinced an interest in the peace movement and in 1908 voiced its disapproval of child labor. By 1909 it turned its attention to the Jewish blue-collar workers but this interest was not economic or social; it was religious; the rabbis were concerned to bring the Jewish workingman into the synagog. Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor had told them the church (read synagog), allied to capitalism, was no friend of the laborer. The Conference now talked of bringing the problems of industrial society to the attention of the students at the Cincinnati seminary, of the need for a democratic synagog open even to those of modest means. The synagog must stand for the unity of all men. But even as late as 1909 it was a measure of the limited understanding of this problem that social justice lay within the province of the Committee on the Instruction of the Blind, Deaf-Mutes, etc.14

THE RABBIS AND THE SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT, 1911-1920

By 1911 the Conference had begun to manifest a greater interest in social and industrial reform. The economic liberals among the rabbis—there were some—believed that social justice was one of the cornerstones of Reform Judaism. It is difficult to determine why the Conference was now ready to do something. Was it influenced by the gallant struggles and minor successes of the Jewish men and women in the garment industry? Had labor become respectable? Much more probable is the conclusion that after a lag of three years the impact of the economic proposals of the Federal Council of Churches was only now being felt by the Conference. If social justice programs were kosher for conservative Christians then surely the Jews, too, could go along. This was an argument that might well appease synagogal presidents to whom liberal economic notions were unacceptable. From 1911 on a series of committees and commissions was established in the Conference. Often they overlapped; sometimes two were appointed at the same time; one might even fail to make a report. The Conference was feeling its way. There was an increasing sympathy for labor, a desire to recruit the Jewish workingmen for the synagog, an appeal to young immigrant Jews to go into social work, the admonition to document one’s Jewishness by furthering justice between every man and his neighbor. None of these proposals was original; all had been borrowed from the Protestants. The Conference was not radical; when war broke out in 1917 it refused to support conscientious objectors who opposed military service.

In 1918 the rabbi of Rochester, Horace Wolf, was the chairman of the Committee on Synagogue and Industrial Relations. By that time he had already served on earlier committees and had demonstrated his complete devotion to the cause of social justice. Unlike his predecessor in the pulpit, Landsberg, Wolf was sympathetic to the immigrants many of whom worked in the local garment factories; he made a special effort to enroll their children in his Sabbath school. In 1918 in imitation of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points Peace Plan Wolf’s committee formulated a program of its own. Its list of recommendations included: the right of labor to organize and to bargain collectively, a minimum wage, the eight-hour-day, mediation and arbitration, industrial, health, and unemployment insurance, old age pensions, workmen’s compensation, a sanitary hygienic working environment, housing reform, employment bureaus, special provisions for women in industry, mothers’ pensions, uniform marriage and divorce laws, equal rights for women in the synagog, care for defectives, minimal congregational membership fees for the poor, freedom of speech and assembly even for Communists, release of political prisoners, and vigorous repression of lynching. Emphasizing an aspect of trade union policy that was peculiarly Jewish the rabbis asked for closer cooperation between labor and management; employers too have rights which must be respected. In their home towns rabbis had been serving as arbitrators in industrial disputes for decades. Philipson once decided in favor of the workers in a building-trades dispute which he was arbitrating. The employers rejecting his decision sent him a check as a placatory gesture. He returned it.15

SOME COMMENTS ON THE JEW AND THE SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT

Prior to the second decade of the twentieth century, so it would seem, there were fewer than a dozen rabbis who were actively preaching the gospel of social justice. Though the recent immigrants were the manifest victims of social injustice their European-born rabbis were not equipped to help them. They were talmudic disputants, not social reformers; nor were the non-Marxist Jewish masses concerned with saving the world; they were content if they could but save themselves economically. Though there was more interest in social change in the second decade of the new century the number of activists among the Reform rabbis was not impressive. This was even more true among the laymen, Reform and Orthodox; most of them were born abroad or were sons of immigrants. The synagog and temple members were middle-class shopkeepers; there was no poverty on a large scale, no impetus to storm the bastions of economic privilege. America had given them at best the chance to reach out for riches; they did enjoy political privileges; as far as they were concerned this was social justice. God forbid that they should rush in to criticize; for them America was very precious. When there was talk about social justice among the Reform clergy much of it was only wishful thinking. Wolf’s recommendations were blandly referred back to the Executive Board of the Central Conference; in other words they were buried. In 1915, in a critique, the forthright Max Heller said that the Conference had made no indictments of existing wrongs, given no guiding principles; as for himself he was not interested in homiletic statements.

Heller’s arraignment of his colleagues would not have been justified a few years later. A growing number of young rabbis wanted more than generalizations. Yet the Conference as a body could do little; the rabbis were weighed down by the daily business of the ministry; their laymen were not in sympathy with the social justice recommendations. In the eyes of the men who sat in the pews all these new demands smacked of socialism. Like the churches, the synagogs looked askance at organized labor which they associated with violence; the apprehensive Jewish merchants wanted low visibility; they shied away from these new social goals. Through the Federal Council of Churches the Protestant church at least confronted the socioeconomic challenges of that day; the Catholic hierarchy in this country was also coming to grips with the problems of the social order and in so doing incurred the wrath of the National Association of Manufacturers which protested to Cardinal Gibbons. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations was exceedingly cautious; it passed no important social action resolution for decades. Individual Jewish synagogal worthies could bare their fangs when confronted with “radicalism.”

When in 1909 Stephen S. Wise reproached his colleagues for failing to help the workers some of the rabbis answered that they could do nothing; they did not have a free pulpit. Obviously the Jewish labor unions and their sympathizers were vitally interested in social justice; they had everything to gain. They refused to work with the synagog; the antagonisms were mutual. Yet it would be wrong to say that the social justice movement was entirely without effect on the Reformers prior to 1920. A few laymen were indoctrinated; some of them were to become active in the movement in later decades; the youngsters, idealistic, were open to universalist, humanitarian appeals. Is it too much to say that from 1918 on the official pronouncements of the Conference may have had some impact on the larger general forces of public opinion? Certainly the rabbis assembled annually in the Conference listened carefully to their colleagues who served on the social justice committee and, it would seem, began to sense the socioeconomic needs and problems of all workers.16

THE JEWISH MISSION

Social justice, the social gospel, is a conception operating on two levels; on its lower level it seeks to improve working and living conditions for the underprivileged masses; on its higher level it aspired to salvage universal society morally and ethically. Reform Judaism, thinking religiously, called this latter hope, which it also cherished, the Mission of Israel. In its “Mission,” Reform, too, operated on two levels. On the lower level it sought to aid the disadvantaged Jews in the United States, immigrants primarily. It wished to help them religiously, charitably, and educationally, emphasizing always the importance of acculturation. The Reformers and the native Orthodox began to assist needy East Europeans in the 1870’s when they first came here in larger numbers. Some of the older settlers wanted to reject them; their counsels did not prevail. The leaders of the established communities reached out a helping hand to the newcomers because they were struggling fellow Jews. The numerous welfare institutions that rose in the last quarter of the nineteenth century were directed primarily toward the incoming aliens. The Temple Emanu-El brotherhood went down to the East Side in search of its brethren.

After the turn of the century the Union and the Central Conference realized that man does not live by bread alone. They stopped emphasizing circuit work in the scattered towns and, if only briefly, made an effort to reach the ghetto masses, spiritually. The Central Conference talked of producing tracts in Yiddish; it thought even of winning over the humble Sephardic newcomers from the Levant who had only recently begun to emigrate. On the High Holy Days many of the younger East Europeans in the crowded quarters of the core city did wander into the People’s Synagogues, if only out of curiosity, but the Orthodox rabbis carried on a campaign against these heretical proselytizers. They were accused of being conversionists, intent on destroying Jewish families. These Reform home missions failed. Theologically, culturally, the Reformers were closer to Unitarians, Ethical Culturists, than they were to their coreligionists who had only yesterday clambered out of steerage. The religious rapprochement between the two groups was a failure; the gap between them was still unbridgeable.17

The half-hearted effort to recruit the Slavic Jews religiously and give them economic aid was but one phase of the Jewish Mission; really a negligible one. On a higher level the Reformer like the social gospel Protestant announced that he was called upon to save society at large, the world if you will. It was his job to further humanity morally, religiously, to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Apparently the leaders treated this visionary hope seriously; every liberal American rabbi talked about the Mission. Though in its origin the concept is biblical it was probably strengthened here by Protestant missionizing, American national optimism, and spiritual imperialism. As far back as 1885, the year of the Pittsburgh Platform with its emphasis on the Jewish Mission, Josiah Strong, a Congregational clergyman, challenged America to bring the blessings of political liberty and Christianity to the whole world. This belief that the United States had the mission to raise all the world to its own high level was shared by Theodore Roosevelt and other notable Americans in the early twentieth century.

In a limited religious sense the social gospel is a Christian version of the Jewish Mission. The Mission is the belief that God has providentially scattered the Jews throughout the world in order that they might work for the unification of all mankind. They are to help establish the final universal religion, one based on justice and peace. This aspiration to pave the way for a messianic age is as old as the prophets and the later rabbis. The Orthodox prayer book is replete with references of a broad universalist nature; this hope for the flowering of an enlightened humanity is found in nearly all the Reform Jewish religious platforms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries both here and in Germany. Schechter poked fun at the Reformers and their Mission; they had no missionaries and could point to no achievement, yet he too wrote that it was the job of the Jew to hasten the coming of God’s kingdom here among men. In 1890 Cyrus Adler had said: It is the mission of the Jew “to teach mankind the existence of one God, the duty of right living, and of forbearance towards all men.” On the cornerstone of a present-day Philadelphia Conservative synagog the following phrase from the Orthodox prayer book is chiseled: “To help perfect the world under the kingdom of the Almighty.” Many Orthodox and Conservative intellectuals did not, could not, object to the spiritual prospect inherent in the Mission of Israel; they did resent the implied rejection of the Return to the Promised Land, making the Exile a virtue.18

In one form or another Judaism would one day become the world’s religion, so the Reformers preached. But if this messianic dream was to become reality the Jew had to work for it; he was to protest all wrongs, strive for that which was good; every Jew was to be a shining exemplar making for righteousness. Jews were to work with the nations, not to create a nation of their own. Only rarely did an individual call for a missionary campaign among the Gentiles as did the Central Conference president in 1901. His suggestion was quickly frowned upon by his colleagues; they did not want to be taken too literally; proselytization, they hastened to point out, was foreign to the Jewish spirit. Ideologically the Mission idea played an important role in Reform; it appears frequently in the Central Conference presidential addresses; little as converts to Judaism were required to avow, they did have to declare solemnly that they would seek to further Israel’s Mission. Was the word “Mission” only a pulpit phrase as Felsenthal called it? Did the Reformers really believe that they were called upon to save society? They talked as if they did; they were certainly convinced of the superiority of their teachings. Down deep, very deep, the Mission ideal was rooted in apologetics; refusing to assimilate, the Jew justified his separateness by insisting that God had enjoined the Jewish people to maintain their distinctiveness in order to speed the coming of the new day.19

AMERICAN JEWRY’S ZIONIST PROBLEMS

In still another sense the Mission concept was for some a rationalization, this time for “sin.” The “guilt-ridden” Western Jew was at ease in the Diaspora, enjoying its comforts, remembering Jerusalem only in his prayers and in his charities. There were others who took the words of the Psalmist seriously: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning” (Psalm, 137:5). These Jews who believed that the Western world would never accept them wholeheartedly favored Zionism, the hope for a free Jewish state in Palestine. This movement, a rejection of the West, infuriated vast numbers of European and American Jews who, having been born unfree, felt that their recent emancipation was threatened. Anti-Semites would accuse them of dual loyalties and invite them to go back to Palestine. You cannot be loyal to America and to Zion! Most American Jews, accepting the validity of this potential anti-Jewish denunciation, became anti-Zionists. This anti-Zionism is thus the apologetics of fearful Jews replying to an accusation before it was actually made.

Zionism is as old as the year 70 C.E. when Jerusalem fell. Since that day Orthodox Jews have prayed for the Restoration; they still pray for a new Zion despite the existence of the State of Israel. There are some right-wing traditionalists who maintain that if the Holy Land is to be rebuilt God alone will do it; he promised it in his Bible. Evangelical Christians still support this view. Pragmatic Americans saw no reason for not giving the Holy One, Blessed be He, a helping hand. In 1825 the publicist Mordecai M. Noah announced that he would set up a refugee colony on Grand Island, New York, one that would prepare Jews to rule themselves in Palestine in the days yet to come. In 1818 and 1844 he told the Christians that the Jews may yet buy or conquer Syria, Palestine, from the Turks, and establish a Jewish state. The new Palestine would be dedicated to peace and good will on earth. During the middle decades of the century Raphael J. De Cordova, the English preacher at Emanu-El, addressed the congregation on the subject of Jewish nationalism; annoyed, the board said that in the future his talks would have to be submitted to Rabbi Samuel Adler for review. With the increase of ethnic nationalism in Europe and murderous riots in Russia the millennial dream of Restoration took on new life. During the 1880’s Emma Lazarus became a total Zionist; the East Europeans here established branches of the Lovers of Zion (Hoveve Zion) and the Returners to Zion (Shave Zion); their interests were primarily in colonization.20

Zionism became more of an issue in the decades of the 1890’s. William Blackstone of Chicago, preacher and missionary, sponsored a petition to President Benjamin Harrison and James G. Blaine, Secretary of State, asking them to write the European powers to call a conference for the purpose of assisting the Jews to reestablish their old homeland (1891). Even Kaufmann Kohler and Simon Wolf signed this petition as did many Jewish and Christian notables. College students at the Seminary and at Columbia organized a Zionist society, calling themselves the Young American Zionists. This was one of the earliest American uses of this new word (1896). Two years later, after the opening of the first Zionist Congress at Basel, delegates assembled in New York to establish the Federation of American Zionists (1898). Richard Gottheil was elected president; Stephen S. Wise became the secretary. Some of the important personalities in the movement in the early days were Reform rabbis; among them were Gustav Gottheil and Bernhard Felsenthal. For Gottheil, Palestine was the answer to anti-Semitism; it was the land where Judaism could be reborn; for Felsenthal it was to become a home for the persecuted Jews. These Polacks are our brothers whether you like them or not; they have great potentiality. Germans and Italians have a new state; why not the Jews? They need one to protect themselves, said the Chicago rabbi.21

At first some Orthodox rabbis were wary of political Zionism because they viewed a number of the international leaders as religiously suspect. This suspicion of the secular Zionist notables was shared by the men who led the Conservatives. By the second decade of the new century, however, many Conservatives had come closer to the new Jewish nationalism hoping, probably, that identification with this growing group would bring them recruits. The Conservatives were not secularists; they wanted a state rooted in Jewish tradition. Morais, the Seminary’s first head, was no partisan of the new Jewish political redeemers; Solomon Solis Cohen, Israel Friedlaender, and Mordecai M. Kaplan were interested primarily in Zionist cultural, religious, and spiritual emphases. They were convinced that the Diaspora had a future; all Jewish communities in exile should be encouraged; the Diaspora was not doomed. After hesitating for years Schechter announced his allegiance to the movement in 1906. As a fervent religionist he hoped that Zionism would prove a bulwark against assimilation, furthered, so he believed, by the permissive Reformers. In the last years of his life he stated specifically that Conservatism as such was not committed to Zionism; secular nationalism could end only in spiritual disaster. Adler, his successor at the Seminary, had no desire to help fashion a political state. In 1900 he referred to Herzl, sarcastically, as the Vienna Messiah. In 1897, corresponding with Herzl, this American recommended colonization in Mesopotamia for the persecuted East European Jews; he admitted, however, that colonization was not the answer to the Jewish problem. If the European Jewish masses were to resettle let them come to the Western Hemisphere. But Adler, whose prayer book was the traditional one, was not an anti-Zionist fanatic; he made a home for the Zionists, Margolis and Malter, at Dropsie. In 1917, only months before the Balfour Declaration was made public, the United Synagogue came out for restoration of Palestine as a land where Judaism could be furthered. Though this very cautious religiopolitical statement was tailored to meet Adler’s objections it did not satisfy him; he resigned as president of the Conservative union of congregations.22

As far back as 1864 Leeser had implied that his Orthodox coreligionists who recited their daily prayers were not really interested in the old homeland; pleading for the Restoration was only a ritualistic exercise. Though a few of the Conservative and Orthodox rabbis of the early twentieth century were opposed to a purely political state in Palestine this was not true of the observant masses. Membership in the Zionist societies, however, was relatively small; many were indifferent, others could not afford the few pennies to pay the required dues. Unlike the traditionalists, almost all Reformers, including the rank and file, were hostile to the thought of a reborn Jewish state. Being an American citizen gave Jews all the status and dignity they craved. Palestine they believed would never do as much for the acculturated Jewish citizen. In 1869 and 1885 Reform rabbinical conferees came out against a return to the Holy Land. Even before the Zionists first met in Basel, Samuel Schulman of Kansas City had already disavowed the new Jewish nationalism; the Jew was a patriotic citizen (1896)! Many Jewish newspapers, edited as they were by acculturated men who were completely oriented to the United States, also rejected the new movement. For Emil G. Hirsch, Zionism was a chapter in the pathology of modern Judaism; for Wise it was “a prostitution of Israel’s holy cause.” Yet even after this denunciation Wise did not stop his students or his faculty from writing on Zionism and defending it. Mielziner, his successor at the College, took no action against the new political philosophy.

The Central Conference first went on record against Zionism in 1897 and continued for years to adopt anti-Zionist resolutions; the following year the Union of American Hebrew Congregations announced its opposition. Gustav Gottheil was not allowed to preach Zionism from Emanu-El’s pulpit though the vestry rooms were opened to him for that purpose. In the years 1906-1907 Kohler’s suspicion that some of the Zionists on his faculty were conspiring against him brought about their resignations. During the 1914 battle over the language of instruction at the Haifa technical school the Central Conference recommended Hebrew for this purpose though other vernaculars were not ruled out. The rabbis waged no war against Hebrew. Three years later, on the eve of the publication of the Balfour Declaration, the Conference voiced its disapproval of any form of political nationalism. It would be another two decades before it would change its position.23

ANTI-ZIONISM

In 1917 about four months after the Central Conference Committee on the President’s Message had rejected any form of political nationalism the Balfour Declaration was issued. It looked with favor on the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. For many Reform Jews Zionism now became much more respectable. The Conference spoke of rehabilitating “Palestine”; the St. Paul rabbi who had been an anti-Zionist before the Balfour Declaration was out raising money for the Zionists by 1920. There were of course intransigents among the rabbis and the laity who never made their peace with the new movement. On the other hand even in the pre-Balfour Declaration days there were non-Zionist rabbis who opened their pulpits to the political heretics. Even Kohler at the behest of his board allowed his students to preach on Zionism in the chapel as long as the sermon was religious in tone. The Reform rabbis never rejected the Promised Land as a potential cultural center. They were ready to help Eliezer Ben Yehuda publish his massive Hebrew dictionary; they read with sympathy and interest Asher Ginzberg’s (Ahad Ha-Am’s) essays on spiritual Zionism; Kohler suggested that Palestine might even become a cultural center. Few if any of the diehards opposed the colonization of Palestine by East European refugees; all were interested in settling Jews on the soil. This of course appealed to Krauskopf, the Tolstoyan. American Jewry never forgot that the Palestine colonies were a marvelous showcase proving to the world that Jews could become palm-blistered dirt farmers.24

When the Reform rabbis met after the publication of the Balfour Declaration they persisted in their rejection of a Jewish political state in Palestine. Philipson in 1918 tried unsuccessfully to organize sentiment in this country against a Zionist state; Marshall declared such activity was “an act of treachery.” The next year, following in the wake of the rabbis, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (1919) declared that a Jewish state was a step backward; the Jews have a message for mankind. Equal rights for all, now about to be guaranteed at the Versailles Peace Conference, would obviate the need for a Jewish homeland. In a formal statement to the Peace Conference Rabbi Henry Berkowitz and his friends protested against the implementation of the Balfour Declaration. But their remonstrances like those of Philipson and his associates were ignored. In answer to a letter from Berkowitz, Harvard’s Leo Wiener, a Russian Jewish émigré, wrote that he was a Unitarian and had no religious relationship to Jews or Judaism.

Although the mandate over Palestine was assigned to Great Britain, many non-Zionists were still unimpressed; the Reform establishment remained obdurate. The Union, the board of the College, and the Conference itself continued to reject the concept of a reborn Jewish state. Leo Franklin, the president, refused to attend the meeting celebrating the granting of the mandate to the English. All Reformers by 1920 expressed their willingness to speed the economic and cultural growth of Palestine but they still refused to accept any political goals. A few short years would modify their dissent radically. The closing of the immigration gates in this land, the rise of anti-Semitism here, in Poland, and in Hitlerian Germany, made Palestine more acceptable. In 1929 America’s social and financial Jewish elite joined the expanded Jewish Agency (the Zionist organization) whose job it was to help build the Jewish national home. There had to be at least one place where Jews would be admitted as Jews. In 1937 the Conference meeting in Columbus promised to help rebuild Palestine as a Jewish homeland.25

THE WHYS OF ANTI-ZIONISM

Why were American Jews indifferent to Zionism in the two decades after 1897? Why were large numbers hostile? Many felt there was no need for a state in Palestine; the United States offered all a secure haven, political rights, economic opportunities. Palestine? It was a semi-arid land; the Turks were tyrants; they would never surrender the country to aliens; its holy places were sacred to Christians and Moslems. And if the Jews were permitted to establish a government of their own they would only quarrel with one another. They had no sense of unity. A Jewish land would invite a union of church and state with all its accompanying evils. Farmers? They were not fitted for such labor. At all events it was only a matter of time before all Jews everywhere would be emancipated. The best in Judaism, said Emil G. Hirsch, had developed in the Diaspora; Sinai was not located in Israel. Isaac M. Wise denounced the Zionist leaders as politicians taking advantage of the people; Kohler feared a godless state.26

If before 1917 there were relatively few Jews in the United States who joined the new national movement—and their numbers were small—why then were the Reformers, powerful and influential, so embittered against it? Why such vitriolic attacks? As it has already been suggested, many American Jews feared that espousal of Zionism exposed them to the charge of dual loyalties. Our enemies will say that we are foreigners, traitors. As far back as 1831 Leeser had to assure his fellow Jews that loyalty to Judaism and prayer for the restoration of Zion implied no political conflict. If miraculously the ancient land of Israel was once more restored to power it could serve as a refuge for Europe’s persecuted. The implication here is that he, Leeser, would still remain in these United States. During World War I when patriotism was at fever’s heat some Jews condemned Zionism using these arguments. Several years earlier Kohler had told the Cincinnati press that Reform, American Judaism, stood for America. The early twentieth century Reform leader emphasized that the hope of Reform lay not in nationalism but in universalism. Zionism, said Kohler, seeks to unite Jews; Reform seeks to unite the entire human family.27

The Reformers and some of the native Conservatives and Orthodox, too, were very disturbed by the Zionist intimation that Jewry’s only hope lay in Palestine, in a land of its own. Diaspora pessimists, Zionists, were implying that the Jews had no future in the Western World; the Dreyfus Case they said, proved that they were not wanted even in France, the first European state to grant them equality. For the Jew who loved his America the implied suggestion—and it was only implicit—that Palestine was to be preferred was traumatic. He reacted by attacking Zionism vehemently. On the highest level, Reform based its rejection of Zionism on religious, theological grounds; the world needs our spiritual message; the world invites and challenges us; retreat to tiny Palestine is defeat. This is something of a rationalization, for Reform was as much people-centered as it was religion-centered. Anti-Zionism was a phase of acculturation aimed at making survival for Jewry here in America more pleasant, more possible, more consistent. It was the Jew’s declaration that he would do much better in the United States than in the Holy Land. In a more inclusive sense it was a conviction that Jews survived through their sense of community, their peoplehood, rather than through life in one specific piece of land, sacred though it be. There is still another facet to this war against Zionism. It reflects the struggle for power in the American Jewish community of the second decade of the new century. The scene of the battle was the American Jewish Congress, 1915-1920; the prime issue at stake was the program that was to be presented to the peace makers at Versailles in 1919. The “Russians,” the “Zionists,” compelled the “Germans,” the natives, to go along with them, but behind even this battle was the larger question: who will dominate American Jewry in the future? Anti-Zionism therefore was but another aspect of the social, cultural, economic, and religious confrontation between the new immigrants and the older established Jewish communities.28

REFORM JUDAISM IN RELATION TO THE ORTHODOX AND THE CONSERVATIVES, 1897-1920: A SUMMARY

Despite the acerbities that characterized relations between the American Jewish communities the Reformers vigorously denied that they were sectarian; they were Jews and wished to be identified as such at all times. Both Schechter of the Seminary and Kohler of the College agreed that Judaism could not live without Torah, Jewish traditional teachings, but each gave the word a different connotation. Each maintained that his school of thought was rooted in the traditional faith. Conservatism, tied to the halakah which it never rejected, dared not introduce radical innovations despite the fact that it was ready to admit that Judaism was in constant flux. The Reformers selected what they wanted from the quarry of the past, made what changes were needed to cope with modernity, and made them immediately. They rejected the ritualistic and emphasized the ethical. History, the spirit of the past, is the sanction for present-day Reform; Reform is the inevitable product of Jewish history. This was emphasized in the Pittsburgh Platform and reiterated by Philipson, Emil G. Hirsch, and Kohler. “We have not broken with our past,” said Hirsch. These men believed that Reform was a link in the chain of Jewish tradition. Reform, said Kohler, conserves the spirit of Israel; it is as constructive as Mosaic and talmudic Judaism. This much is true; Judaism was never an unchanging monolith.29

INTERNAL POLEMICS AND INTRAFAITH RELATIONS

Reformers would not have denied that much of Orthodox and Conservative theology was acceptable to them: God, revelation, reward and punishment, a body of ethics that embraces all mankind. All Jewish religionists had synagogs, schools of their own, ceremonials and rituals which they held in common, but this did not preclude intrafaith polemics. No one religious philosophy could contain all of them. It is true that individual Jews were anti-Orthodox but this bias was in no small part ethnic, social, cultural, and economic. The rise of the Slavic Orthodox and the Conservatives annoyed many leaders of the older communities, yet even a left-wing classicist like Landsberg warned the College graduating class of 1899 not to attack Orthodoxy.

Through the Committee on Contemporaneous History, the Conference documented its Jewish ecumenicity. The prevailing differences did not deter the Reformers from identifying themselves wholeheartedly with all other Jews. Condolences were sent to the anti-Reform leaders of Germany’s Rabbinerseminar on the death of Adolf Berliner and Hirsch Hildesheimer. Deutsch, the chairman, and his CCAR history committee recommended a subvention for an edition of the Jerusalem Talmud to be published in Palestine by the blind scholar Abraham Moses Luncz. Notice was taken by the Conference of the death of Isaac Loeb Peretz, the Polish Yiddish writer, of Abraham Goldfaden, Jacob Gordin, and Hirsch Bernstein in America. None of these notables was in any degree sympathetic to Reform Judaism; in some instances this is very much of an understatement. Brandeis was congratulated on his appointment to the Supreme Court though the Conference could not fail to know that he had no interest whatsoever in Judaism as a religion. In 1909, memorial resolutions were adopted and representatives were sent to the funeral of Joseph M. Asher, professor of homiletics at the New York Seminary. Asher was very Orthodox and anti-Reform. Equally well over on the right was the Baltimore rabbi Henry William Schneeberger yet when his congregation celebrated the twenty-fifth year of his service at Chizuk Amuno, Mielziner of the College did not fail to congratulate him. When Schneeberger died the eulogy was delivered by Rosenau, a Reform rabbi. In most towns few important Jewish celebrations took place without the participation of the local Reform rabbi. Despite Philipson’s Reform intransigence he was careful to observe the Jewish amenities. He refused to let his aristocratic wife Ella, the sister of Jacob Hollander of Hopkins, hang a copy of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna on the walls of his home. When Ella asked her dinner guest, Israel Zangwill, to intercede with her husband, Zangwill with tongue in cheek reminded the rabbi that Christ’s mother was a Jew. There is every reason to believe that the intercession was unsuccessful.30

On the whole, good relations characterized the intercourse between the Conservatives and the Reformers. When Schechter was inaugurated in New York City, Mielziner and a number of Reform rabbis congratulated him; several were present in person. In 1903 Kohler spoke at the dedication of the new Seminary building and when that same year the New Yorkers gave Kohler a banquet on his departure for Cincinnati Schechter was called upon to congratulate the new president of the College, his rival. They would get along, said Schechter, for both were students of Torah. Schechter respected Kohler; he had no use for other Cincinnati Reformers; he referred to them sarcastically as the “Cincinnati saints” and the “ignoramuses of the West.” The College students wrote in their paper that they were at one with the Seminary students in spirit and in fellowship; the editors could have added that their curricula had much in common. Called upon to help dedicate the new College in 1913, the distinguished Seminary head said that both groups sought to proclaim the great truths of Judaism. The collected essays of Schechter were published by a Cincinnati Reform Jew; the New Yorker’s bibliography was compiled by the librarian of the Hebrew Union College; when the Conservative leader passed away, the College held memorial services and the students dedicated an issue of their monthly to him.31

THE QUEST AND HOPE FOR RELIGIOUS UNITY

In 1902 the president of the Central Conference welcomed Schechter to the United States, saying that Reform and Orthodoxy are opposing tendencies, not opposing truths. Even when Wise denounced Zionism in 1897 he was placatory in his references to Orthodoxy and Conservatism. The following year Kohler expressed the hope that all American congregations would unite into one union and that all liberal-minded Conservative rabbis would join the Conference. Was he trying to counter the divisive effects of the Zionism-anti-Zionism struggle? In 1903 Louis Marshall resigned in a huff from a Reform committee raising money for the College because the Reformers resented his efforts at the same time to secure funds for the Seminary. For Marshall there was but one Judaism. That the Conference was willing to work closely with all Jewish religionists is documented by its participation in helping produce the new Jewish Publication Society translation of the Holy Scriptures and in its acceptance of a single book of prayers for all Jews in the armed forces. The ideological compromise adopted in this khaki-bound missal was a starred warning to Reform worshippers that they need not pray for a personal messiah, the restoration of animal sacrifices, or the reestablishment of the Davidic state. By 1920 the Jewish clergy in some towns, as in Chicago, were meeting together for scholarly discussions or uniting in local rabbinical associations, although for the most part, the Orthodox ministers kept to themselves. The rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in the early 1900’s said that the Reformers, the Orthodox, and the Conservatives, were all part of American Judaism. There can be no question that there was a growing tendency for all Jews and their religious leaders to work together for common purposes.32

The Reform willingness to work for Jewish unity was challenged and attested by its coming to terms with the new immigrants. Is it possible that after the massive Russian pograms of 1905 the Reformers were less concerned with intrafaith Jewish polemics and more concerned with helping Jews in distress? Addressing the Union of American Hebrew Congregations Emil G. Hirsch said that the East Europeans here were good citizens; we must help them and win them for our cause. Concerned with the sufferings of the East Europeans in their native lands and the threat to their well-being here, the Conference and the Union helped raise funds for pogrom victims, spoke out against illiteracy and restrictive immigration bills, fought to terminate the Russian-American treaty, protested against the classification of “Hebrews” apart from other immigrants, and opposed the boycott against Jews in Poland. The Conference could not understand how the Poles who always pleaded for liberty trampled on the human rights of others. The Reformers were willing to send money to Europe to help the oppressed Jews; they were ready to take the lead in building a social-welfare and Americanizing educational complex to aid the newcomers, but they were slow, very slow, to accept them socially. The two groups were worlds apart linguistically, culturally, and ritually. The natives and the Germans were anti-Zionist; the East European synagoggoers were, at worst, indifferent to Zionism. The immigrants gave the temple a wide berth; the temple elite did not welcome them. “How shameful it is,” said the Baltimore Reformer, Morris Lazaron, “for descendants of German Jewish peddlers to look down upon the descendants of Russian Jewish tailors.”33

By the 1890’s a few of the newcomers had found their way into the temple; by 1910 liberal synagogs were somewhat more friendly to the immigrants, especially to the children. In Vicksburg, Rabbi Sol Lysander Kory went out of his way to welcome the newcomers. This was in no sense typical. The rabbi encouraged them to wear their skullcaps, his Ladies Aid Society even made shrouds for the Orthodox, and thus it was that in time the new arrivals were absorbed into his congregation. Had other Reformers patterned themselves on him, the Movement would have been the gainer; they missed their opportunity. By 1920 the Reformers, Conservatives, and Orthodox were moving somewhat closer together because of certain basic beliefs and practices, because of the common need to help Jews abroad and to fight prejudice here. The inescapable impact of Americanism was the cement, the strong bond that held them together, but even more important was their image of themselves as a distinct people.34

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344729
Related ISBN
9780814344736
MARC Record
OCLC
1055143407
Pages
661-686
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC
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