Conservative Judaism Gaining in U.S. Congregations, Assembly Hears
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Conservative Judaism Gaining in U.S. Congregations, Assembly Hears

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That traditional Judaism otherwise known as Conservative Judaism. as expounded by the graduates of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. is constantly gaining ground among American congregations and that under the influence of Conservative rabbis and the acceptance of their doctrines and practices by a growing number of congregations. Reform leaders are abandoning their radical views, were the assertions made by Rabbi Elias Margolis of Emann-El Synagegue. Mount Vernon. N. Y. in a paper read at the Rabbinical Assembly in session at New Howland Hotel here.

In the paper which described the influence of Conservative Judaism on American Judaism. Rabbi Margolis reviewed the developments in Jewish religious life in the United States during the first quarter of the present century when Conservative Judaism. under the guidance of the Jewish Theological Seminary, became a prominent factor and created what is sometimes referred to as the third party in Jewish religious life in America. Both extreme wings, the Orthodox and the Reform are reluctant to admit that they have changed their positions due to the emergence of the new element.


Dr. Louis Finkelstein of New York. was re-elected president of the Rabbinical Assembly at the Wednesday morning session. Other officers elected were: vice-president, Dr. Israel H. Levinthal Brooklyn: treasurer. Dr. Elias Margolis of Mount Vernon. M. Y.: recording secretary. Dr. Israel Golistein. New York: corresponding secretary Rabbi Alter S. Landesman. Brooklyn.

The additional members of the Executive Council chosen are: Rabbi

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Abraham Burstein, New York; Rabbi Paul Chertoff, Brooklyn; Rabbi Harry F. Davidowitz. Atlantic City; Rabbi Max Drob, Philadelphia; Dr. Louis M. Epstein. Boston; Dr. Julius H. Greenstone, Philadelphia; Rabbi Max Kadushin, Chicago; Rabbi Max D. Klein, Philadelphia; Dr. Jacob Kohn, New York; Rabbi Louis M. Levitsky, Wilkes-Barre; Dr. Herman H. Rubinovitz, Boston; Dr. ormal Salit, Far Rockaway; Dr. Benjamin H. Birnbaum, Chicago; Rabbi Philip R. Alstadt, New York; Rabbi Morris Silverman, Hartford; Rabbi Mortimer J. Cohen, Philadelphia, and Rabbi Louis Schwefel, Washington, D. C.


A resolution against the proposed calendar change, adopted by the Assembly, read: “Resolved, that we unequivocally protest against any change in the Gregorian calendar which would endanger the fixity of the Sabbath.” Another resolution provided for the appointment of a committee to prepare a memorial publication to honor the memory of Professor Israel Friedlaender on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his death.


A marked return to the traditional ritual and to religious observances on the part of Reform congregations is noticeable in such American cities and towns where Conservative congregations flourish.

In support of this view Rabbi Margolis quoted utterances of leading Reform rabbis in the United States and excerpts from official reports of various committees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

“We possess that something of which Reform is deficient, real and thrilling enthusiasm in our Jewish life. Reform is showing every evidence of a strong desire to recapture this enthusiasm and is even willing to retrace its steps to get a little of that Jewish thrill. In every city where there is a strong and influential Conservative congregation, there may be found a marked tendency on the part of the Reform Jews to go back to more Judaism. It expresses itself in various ways. In one community, a Reform Temple founded twenty-two years ago by radicals who had been reared in Chicago’s Sinai Temple, now requires its rabbi and cantor to officiate with covered heads during the entire service. The same community boasts a very ambitious and successful Conservative synagogue,” Rabbi Margolis said.

“The uncompromising Orthodox wing looks upon the Conservative wing with suspicion and refuses to recognize its claim as the representative of traditional Judaism. But if unwittingly pays it the compliment of imitation. It turns its Yeshivah into a seminary whose graduates are English-speaking and with a secular education. Its synagogues are beginning to be conducted decorously and aim at aestheticism and uniformity in ritual and music. Its schools aim at curricular standardization and pedagogic perfection. Whether they admit it or not, they have learned a great deal from the Conservatives whom they profess to despise. The Conservatives can afford to be forgiving and forebearing in the consciousness that the worst that can befall the ultra-Orthodox Jews is that they will and must eventually attach themselves one by one to the forces of Conservative Judaism which stands as a buffer between them and Reform and which saves them from the fate of ultimate extinction,” he stated.

At the present stage of its development, however, Conservative Judaism faces the danger of disappearance at the very time when its efforts reach fruition, Rabbi Margolis stated, urging: “Let it not happen that when the remnant of American Reform Judaism seeks to return to that form of Judaism interpreted and sponsored by the Conservative movement, the Conservative Jews themselves, through inaction and neglect will themselves have disappeared.”


The quest for a new definition of nationhood is of supreme importance at the present stage of development in Jewish life in connection with the rebuilding of Palestine, was the view of Dr. Mordecai M. Kaplan in a paper on “The Meaning of Nationhood.” This need is felt particularly among Conservative Jewry and the Zionists, in view of the fact that they are committed to the historic principle that the ultimate return of the Jews to Palestine is an essential part of the Jewish religious outlook. This conception cannot, however, change the fact that for the present and for many generations to come, a large body of Jews will live outside of Palestine as citizens of other countries. While there is no conflict which may lead to any friction or difficulties, in view of these facts, a new definition of nationhood is needed. Perhaps the substitution of the term “inter-nation” for nation. in relation to the Jews, might be feasible, Dr. Kaplan argued. He suggested the following formula for the definition of nationhood:

“Nationhood is the sense of unity with that group which supplies one with the basic or elemental culture which constitutes the initial humanizing factor in one’s life. A land furnishes the group with the content of the culture, and the family unit which derives its status and sanction from the group is the chief instrument for conveying that culture.”

With the acceptance of this formulation of nationhood as a cultural rather than a political concept, no charge of inconsistency could be directed against such groups as the Irish and the Jews, who are in the peculiar position of deriving their cultural background and political status from two cultures and what is now termed two nations. No further discussion on the subject was held.

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