The secession of a large number of Jewish women in New Jersey from the chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star in that state upon their discovery that the Order’s ritual, made obligatory, places them in conflict with their profession of Judaism, is an issue of nation-wide signicance, is the burden of the argument made by Rabbi Gerson B. Levi, writing editorially in “The Reform Advocate” of Chicago.
Rabbi Levi bases his opinion on the character of the Eastern Star funeral ritual which he heard recited at the funerals of Jewish women who were members of the Order. He states:
“When will it dawn on the minds of some of the Jewish women of the Middle West that their affiliation with the Eastern Star places them in an incongruous and apologetic attitude. It has already dawned on the minds of some of their sisters in the East, who have, because of the ritual impossibilities of the Eastern Star, severed their connection with it. And no one who has heard the ritual of the Eastern Star at a funeral service can question the rightness of the action of the women of the Jewish faith who have rebelled against the outspoken Christian character of the ritual. We do not know the rituals of the closed meetings of the Eastern Star. If they are anything like the services that are read in public, or if in them the same characters appear and speak as do at the public funeral service of the Order, there is additional reason for the secession of the Jewish women from the Eastern Star.
“We do not know whether it was ignorance on the part of the Jewish women of their Judaism or of Christianity that left them so far unrebellious, or that the desire for companionship with the larger circles of so-called non-sectarian groups that held them loyal to the Eastern Star. In the first case we think that the ignorance is blameworthy and in the second we think that companionship was being purchased at too high a price. If Jewish women had the least information about the characters that appear at the funeral services they would know that they are for the most part out of alignment with Jewish teaching on the subjects of life and death, and they would know that assurances worded by one of the characters because of a supposed knowledge that she may have about something that might have happened some nineteen hundred years ago are not at all satisfactory or acceptable to Jewish thinking. It is true that quotations and references from the New Testament are not labelled as such, but honestly they ought to have quotation marks around them.
“We are not saying that the services are bad. They are good for Christion funerals, at which the listeners may accept the truths that are being propounded. For them the truth is clinched by a quotation from the New Testament or by a saying ‘Jesus.’ But what can it possibly mean more than a mere mummery to have a family of mourners, Jews, comforted by quotations from a book that they do not believe in, and to tell the truth, if the quotation were made openly, would be scandalized. It is worse than mummery to have a good Jewish woman, who does not believe anything that she says of the ritual, impersonate a character upon whom she does not privately set the value that the book sets, and in the person of the character speaks words taken from a literature that she does not take to be final or binding at all. And surely when the service of the Eastern Star is given in conjunction with a Jewish service at which a Rabbi is bringing the message of his Judaism, and not of the blue points and other such, the Rabbi is tempted to say-Well, this is a funeral of a Jewish woman, the family is Jewish, the characters have been impersonated by Jews, is there not a situation here that must be cleared up at once? We cannot have both. This is neither fish, nor flesh, nor fowl, nor good salt herring.
“Of course, if the woman who is dead had been so good a Jewish woman, why did she join the Eastern Star? We beg to relate the question, why having joined did she stay in? She joined and her joining was easy to account for. She joined as many join secret organizations. She joined like many join the Ku Kluxers. If there is a secret to be known it is human nature to want to know it. A whole room filled with people may be chatting away very comfortably. Let there be a suggestion that in one corner of the room someone is telling a secret and the whole room will stop talking and listen for the secret. And so this woman joined the Eastern Star, and she will be the more likely to join it if her husband did not belong to a congregation. She has lost companionship with others who work in the fine Jewish cause so she attaches herself to something anyway. She remains in because someone really has not pointed out to her the incongruity of the whole situation. We are pointing it out now, and we call for action on the part of the Jewish women of the Middle West that will parallel the action taken by the women of the Eastern States. The time has come when we must set the proper values to things and not deal too lightly with our Judaism. Surely the Christian members of the Eastern Star have taught us how to set value on the things that are to be believed and followed. They have resolutely refused to change their service from the Christian form to the non-sectarian.
“And it may be added that there is
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something even larger than the problem of the Eastern Star involved here. There is the matter of all kinds of services of secret organizations that step in at the last moment and take their place beside the distinctive religious service. Some of them are less objectionable, some more so. We wonder whether the time is not approaching when we can say definitely Jews shall be buried as Jews and not anything else, that the religious services, consistent in their Judaism, shall not be supplemented by rituals that tamper with Judaism. And we confess that some of the men in the Jewish ministry are beginning to be irked by the intrusion of organizations that stay out of the place of service while the religious service is going on and then parade in to read their ritual, or read their ritual and then march out before the religious service begins. There is a matter of bad manners in this procedure. United action on the part of the Central Conference of American Rabbis is desirable on this.”