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Urge Religious Tribunal for Adjustment Problems at Rabbis’ Convention

The establishment of an authoritative, rabbinical tribunal in the United States for the interpretation of Jewish religious law was placed on the agenda for discussion at the opening session of the twenty-ninth annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of Conservative rabbis, affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary and the United Synagogue of America. About 150 rabbis were in attendance at the New Howland Hotel here when the session was opened. Rabbi Louis Finkelstein presided. Three committees were appointed: a nominations committee headed by Rabbi Max D. Klein of Philadelphia: a resolutions committee headed by Rabbi C. E. H. Kauvar of Denver, and a committee on the president’s message, headed by Rabbi B. Birnbaum.

“Difficult questions continually arise demanding solution, questions which our ancestors never were called upon to meet; the very freedom which we enjoy involves new modes of religious adjustment. We cannot permit individual rabbis to go beyond the accepted code and custom in interpreting the law. The anarchy which is growing up because of the daring of some rabbis who arrogate to themselves the authority to introduce unheard of precedents is one of the greatest dangers to the future of our religion. Such delicate and responsible matters as the nullification of marriage, for example, belong properly not to individual rabbis but to widely recognized tribunes, representing whole groups. We deny to our own individual members the authority to deal with these questions and we deny it also to individual members of any other group.” Rabbi Finkelstein said in his presidential message.

The president of the Rabbinical Assembly added that the Assembly would welcome the opportunity to join other groups of rabbis who accept the authority of the Jewish religious tradition to establish the tribunal. The Assembly realizes, however, that many difficulties must be overcome before such a tribunal may be established. Pending this, the Rabbinical Assembly feels justified in creating for itself

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a Committee on Jewish Law, whose purpose it is to guide the rabbis in questions of ritual and religious adjustment.

Denial of charges made in certain quarters that the rabbis who were graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary and are affiliated with the Rabbinical Assembly are creating a “third party” in Judaism was made by Rabbi Max Drob, former president of the Assembly, in a paper entitled: “A Reaffirmation of Traditional Judaism.” Rabbi Drob asserted that the Reform rabbis in the United States have made “a mess of their task” and emphasized that traditional Judaism as expounded by the Jewish Theological Seminary does not differ fundamentally from so-called Orthodox Judaism. In fact, he said, they are identical except for the method used.

Statements of the late Dr. S. Schechter and Dr. Cyrus Adler were quoted by Dr. Drob in support of his view, Dr. Schechter had stated repeatedly that the Jewish Theological Seminary is not the center nor even the nucleus of a third party in Judaism. Dr. Cyrus Adler summed up his view in one sentence: “What has been preserved for 4,000 years was not saved that I should overthrow it.”

“Traditional Judaism as it was taught in the Seminary differs from the so-called Orthodox Judaism as practiced in Eastern Europe only in method Without casting any reflection on our East European brethren, we believe that traditional Judaism in this land can only be promulgated in synagogues that are architecturally beautiful and at services where calm and order prevail. We believe that traditional Judaism must be preached in English, a language which the people understand, and by men who are the masters of their congregation by virtue of their secular as well as religious education. As to the contents of Judaism there is really no difference between the traditional Judaism as it was taught at the Seminary and Orthodox Judaism,” Rabbi Drob said.

Some progress in the publication of a critical text of the Mishnah, undertaken by a committee of the Assembly, was reported by Rabbi Finkelstein. The work is being done cooperatively among members of the Assembly and one treatise, Menachoth, has been completed for publication and several others are partly done. A fund is now being raised to photograph some of the sources for the purpose of comparison.

Rabbi Finkelstein further reported that the Rabbinical Assembly, following the adoption of a constitution at its last convention, was incorporated by an act of the Legislature of the State of New York and approved by the governor. The act includes the preamble to the Assembly’s constitution, which makes the organization by its charter bound to cooperate with the Jewish Theological Seminary and the United Synagogue of America.

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