[The purpose of the Digest is informative: Preference is given to papers not generally accessible to our readers. Quotation does indicate approval.–Editor.]
The present position and problems of Reform Judaism are discussed in the Jewish press here and abroad on the occasion of the International Conference of Jewish Liberals, which opened in London, July 10th.
The “American Hebrew,” (July 9) observes:
“For the first time in the history of Judaism, representatives of Liberal Jews from many nations will gather to discuss the subject from the point of view of the progressive trend in Judaism as it is manfesting itself in their States.
“The Liberals say Orthodoxy is a dying force that cannot hold Jewish youth within the Jewish fold; the Orthodox see in Liberalism a destroying force that spells the end of Judaism. How reminiscent of the controversies in America fifty years ago! The gathering in London will tend to convince British Jews that Liberalism is not an exotic, but a movement to be reckoned with in the evolution of Judaism. It will prove of invaluable worth to Jewish Liberalism in Great Britain, and we hope to the other countries where the youth of the land is deserting the Synagogue.”
The “Jewish Chronicle” of Newark, N. J., a Reform paper, believes that the London conference will be an “epoch-marking event from many points of view.”
“First,” the paper declares, “it reveals the increasing strength of the Liberal Jewish movement throughout the world to make such a gathering of representatives from many different countries both advisable and profitable. In the meeting there is, moreover, vividly visualized one of the most hopeful signs of our progressive civilization, namely, the essential unity underlying religious groups. In the preliminary correspondence that prepared the way for the London Liberal Jewish Conference, it was also suggested by leaders of the English Reform movement that there would follow the greatest good to the English Jews from an assembly of world representatives of the Reform Jewish cause.”
The belief that the notion prevailing in some quarters to the effect that the Conservative synagogue has become freer while the Reform synagogue has become more Orthodox, so that soon there will be a chance for a synthesis between the two, is not altogether tenable, is put forward by the “Reform Advocate” of Chicago (June 26 issue) which writes:
“The amalgamation would be one of hit or miss and would not be lasting. For whatever the outer manifestations of the Liberal Conservative and the Orthodox Reformer, there is a vital difference in the attitude of mind. The Orthodox Reformer may argue for this or that ceremony, but he still has the Reform position about the Bible and about the Talmud, about the validity of the texts and the commandments, and in his views he differs very sharply from the liberal Conservative. They may, at one service or upon one question, seem to speak the same language, but in the long travel they will choose different paths.
“If there is to be a unification of Jewry in America it will not be along the line of the Reformers who have wearied of being pathfinders and the liberal Conservatives who are making the effort to catch up with the stand-still Reformers. The unification will come by a genuine discussion and solution to meet the needs of today along the lines of modern scholarship both in the text and the traditions and in the philosophy and psychology of today.”
An entirely different opinion, namely, that there is a narrowing of the differences that separate the Reform and Orthodox Jews in America, is expressed by Dr. Chaim Zhitlowski, who describes his impressions of a tour throughout the United States in “The Day.” Writing in the issue of June 27, Dr. Zhitlowski observes, with reference to the alleged tendency of Reform Judaism to come closer to the more conservative element:
“I have no doubt that this phenomenon cannot be explained on purely religious motives, except in regard to a few individuals. In the sense of religion, Reform Judaism has nothing to seek for in the Orthodox Synagogue, while it would lose a great deal there. Religiously, the approximation of the Reform temple to the Orthodox synagogue constitutes a retreat, a sort of reaction.
“But this reaction is explained by the national psychology, the national need, which has welled up of late, precisely among the assimilated Jews. Whether, of its own self, or because of the growing anti-Semitism, there has arisen and rises among them a keen need for a rich, vital Jewish life of their own.
“The national need demands that the assimilated Jews should make the necessary jump toward that field of worldly national Jewish culture, on which the largest part of the Jewish people is already working.”
The fact of the convocation of the International Liberal Conference in London is regarded by “Das Juedische Echo” of Munich of June 11th as a refutation of the thesis that the Jews should have no international adhesion and should properly be segregated in each individual country.
“One can hardly believe one’s eyes: an international conference for the purpose of breaking into atoms a Judaism that is doomed!” the paper writes. “This International Conference, moreover, is declared to be of ?epoch making importance. At this conference, so we understand, the question of an organization of an international union of Liberal Jews will be discussed. Furthermore–despite the passionate denial of an international cohesion of liberal Judaism–it is declared innocently that Germany, the bulwark of Reform Judaism will be represented at the gathering by a number of leading Reform Jews of this country. Are there not, then, mutual interests and mutual problems which make necessary an organization of an international union?
“The International Liberal Conference,” the paper further states, “will have another surprise for the German Liberals of the old tendency. They will sit at this conference at the same table with Zionists! The Liberal Rabbi and Zionist, Dr. Stephen S. Wise, and with him several other American Zionists, will be present at the gathering.”
Referring to the eagerness expressed by German Jewish Reformers to meet with the American Jewish Reform Zionists and to exchange views with them, “Das Juedische Echo” expresses its skepticism as to the outcome of such a meeting between the Zionists and anti-Zionists. “We will be grateful to our friends from America,” the paper remarks, “if they will succeed in convincing our Landsleute of the necessity and the political harmlessness of Zionism. We fear, however, that their efforts, too, will remain unsuccessful.”
“Der Israelit” of Frankfurt Am Main, organ of the Orthodox Jews, contending that Liberal Judaism “finds itself today on the wane in all the countries and has assumed spiritually a defensive position, even in those countries where the number and influence of the Liberal Jews is strongest,” suggests that: “There lies before Liberal Judaism today only one solution, a spiritual alliance with Zionism. Zionism holds out to the misled Reform Judaism the warm blood of the historical race tradition without religious obligations of any kind, without, therefore, demanding of Liberal Judaism any compromise on the score of fundamental religious issues,” the paper declares its belief.
“Der Israelit” holds that such a step on the part of Liberal Judaism would be a natural development that would heal a breach of long standing, at the same time infusing new vigor into the veins of Reform Judaism and cementing a solid front of all elements for the national Jewish rennaisance.
At a meeting at the Y. M. H. A. Building, in Philadelphia, Pa., called jointly by Rabbi B. L. Levinthal, Jacob Ginsburg, publisher of the “Jewish World,” Rabbi Max D. Klein of the Congregation Adath Jeshurun, Judge Wm. M. Lewis and Rabbi Relff of Camden, N. J., a committee was organized to arrange for a campaign in Philadelphia and Atlantic City for the Yeshivah at Hebron, Palestine.
Rabbi Max D. Klein was named Chairman of the Committee.
Associated with Rabbi Klein will be Rabbi B. L. Levinthal as honorary chairman, Jacob Ginsburg, Professor Isaae Husik and Judge William M. Lewis, vice chairman, Rabbi Solomon Gravzel of Camden, secretary and Judge Leopold C. Glass, treasurer.
Twenty-five representative leaders in Philadelphia were present at the luncheon, Mr. Jacob Ginsburg presided.