Renaissance of Jewish Scholarship Urged at Conference of Rabbis
Menu JTA Search

Renaissance of Jewish Scholarship Urged at Conference of Rabbis

Download PDF for this date

(Jewish Daily Bulletin)

The thirty-eighth annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis opened last night in Congress Hall. Rabbi Louis I. Wolsey of Philadelphia, President of the Conference, in the president’s message, urged the renaissance of Jewish scholarship.

“Not only must the great scholarly renaissance which is pervading Jewry particularly in this country be encouraged in adherence to the ancestral faith, and directed towards the advancement thereof, but the aid of the Jewish laity should be sought to foster the Jewish students and thinkers into purposeful achievement,” declared Dr. Wolsey.

“The groups in Judaism that are learned in so many a secular science and art and history are abysmally ignorant of the well-springs of Jewish thought and life. Here we have an opportunity for a new renaissance. The time has come for our conference to give to a Jewish scholarship that has kept pace with the new discovery of biology, psychology, philosophy and history such studies as the God idea. Judaism and the doctrine of evolution, the election of Israel, the efficacy of prayer the doctrine of immortality, the authority of the Bible in Judaism. The scientific and scholarly activities of our many Jewish students and thinkers, could be tangibly and result-fully encouraged if the laymen of Jewry could be given to see the value to Judaism of more intensive studies in Jewish literature. Our people respond liberally to all forms of philanthropic enterprises but they have not yet learned to give liberally to Jewish scholarship and Jewish science,” Dr. Wolsey stated.

Anti-Semitism is considered somewhat of a dead issue in Jewish religious thought, he said.

“In facing the task of awakening the religious conscience we have passed beyond the obsolete stimulance of anti-Semitism to provoke our people into religious committance. Thank God, the fever of Jewish hatred is passing from the souls of nations. The problems of life are too manifold and too complex to resort to the scapegoat method of finding a solution.”

Religious tolerance was reaffirmed by Dr. Wolsey as a principle of the conference. “We reaffirm our Jewish position in a missionaryizing world that each man shall have the right to worship God in his own way and that religious disagreement should be no bar to an honest and uncalculating friendship. We renewed our compact with the Federal Council of Church of Christ in America that because of our mutual respect for the integrity of each others religion and our desire that each faith shall enjoy fullest opportunity for its development and because these committees have no proselytizing.”

In speaking of the thirty-seven years’ existence of the Conference, Dr. Wolsey declared that many changes have taken place in the life of Israel.

“A tremendous immigration from Russia, numbering nearly a million souls–the greatest exodus in Jewish history–took place, the Dreyfus trial, and the Russian pogroms revealed the insecurity of the Jews’ position, the Zionist movement was born. The Jewish Religious Union was founded in London (1901). The Jewish Encyclopedia was completed. The New English version of the Bible (1917) was published. The Great War was waged, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were forged and distributed to a war-torn, war-tired and suspicious world. The fight against immigration gradually won its point. The British Mandate for Palestine was proclaimed officially, and America passed through the waves of Nordicism and Ku Kluxism. With all of these historic phenomena, Judaism had to deal, and to make its necessary adjustment, and though the waters did not engulf us completely, Jewish thought was not altogether unaffected. This is a conference of American Rabbis, and as such we are specialists in Jewish life. Our chief solicitude is our religion. Whatever the interpretation or the activity of others (and we have always had parties in Israel) our chief function is the preservation and the teaching of our religion. We hold to the belief that no matter how devotedly the life of the Jew is concerned with secular and philanthropic interests, our chief–nay, our sole task is the furtherance of our religious life and the development of Jewish thought.

“The synagogue will not be able to assemble all Israel under its roof,” continued Dr. Wolsey, “and perhaps it never will on this side of the Messianic Day. So long as it nails its flag to the principle of religious liberty, it will never deny to any Jew or any man the right and duty to think out his own religious or irreligious interpretations. And if the International Missionary Council disagrees with us– and we presume it does–then we respectfully suggest that it proseltyze those church members and those who smite their brother’s cheek, instead of turning to him their own.”

The President’s message outlining the work of the Conference was preceded by an address by Rabbi H. G. Enelow, of New York, vice-president of the Conference.

“Judaism has grown and has adjusted itself to every new condition by deliberative assemblies, in which the diverse questions of religious theory and practice were discussed and measures adopted for the good of Judaism. There is need for such common council at present, what with the general spiritual disturbances of our times and what with our own particular vexations.” Dr. Enelow stated.

Addresses in memorium on deceased members of the conference were delivered at the opening session.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund