Challenge to Rabbinate is Now Economic and Social, States Rabbi E. L. Israel

Rabbi Edward L. Israel, chairman of the Social Justice Commission of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, in a statement issued to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today, takes issue with Rabbi Samuel Schulman of Temple Emanu-El of New York on the latter’s criticism of the “Socialistic” views embodied in the report which was adopted at the recent conference in Cincinnati.

“Dr. Samuel Schulman, rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, New York City,” Rabbi Israel says, “still lives in the theological age in which he was an extraordinarily brilliant figure. No finer mind existed in the Central Conference of American Rabbis to cope with the intricate aspects of the theological interests as dominant in that day when the difficulties between religion and science had to be adjusted. Dr. Schulman deserves everlasting appreciation of his great work along this line.

“That day, however, has gone by. The challenge now is economic and social. Religion’s duty is much more closely akin to the ancient prophetic function of judging a concrete economic situation in the light of Jewish social idealism. The times demand something more than the vague generality, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ They demand specific condemnations of private monopoly and private exploitation of the profit system, in the spirit of Isaiah, who warned concretely against those who ‘join house to house and field to field.’

“Dr. Schulman commits a grave error when he says that his colleagues of the Central Conference of American Rabbis have not sufficient economic knowledge to warrant an opinion on ethical values. Dr. Schulman may not have this knowledge, but the great majority of the younger generation of liberal rabbis in America have realized the challenge of the economic world and have fitted themselves for it by studying these problems just as Dr. Schulman in his day studied the problems of modern science in order to cope with that challenge.

“The recent social statement passed by the Central Conference of American Rabbis after submission by me, on behalf of the Commission on Social Justice, does not pretend to be a panacea for all the ills of society. It does not pretend to be a new revelation from Sinai. It makes no pretenses of permanence. It merely says in effect:

“The world is in a very sorry plight today. A cruel and inhuman management of worldly goods by a minority has thrown masses of people into destitution. Certain economic ideas are advanced to alleviate or solve these problems. Since human suffering enters into the situation and injustice is obviously being done, we have the duty, as

ethical teachers, to pass our judgment as to which of the specific economic solutions we regard as the most ethical. Society looks to us for this type of ethical judgment in order that it may strive to find a decent way out of chaos.

“May I close my rejoinder to Dr. Schulman with a story of my own experience. Presiding at a symposium held in my congregation some time ago was an internationally known Jewish economist of enlightened but conservative tendencies. At the conclusion of a talk I had given on ‘Religion and Social Justice,’ he turned on me and told me that he was disappointed in my remarks because I had failed to be more specific. He said, ‘We economists have given you a lot of ideas. Before any of these ideas can become vital, they must have ethical as well as scientific sanction. We want you to tell us what you regard to be the finest economic plans for bringing about social justice as judged through the light of your prophetic traditions.’ It is in this spirit that the Central Conference of American Rabbis has loyally supported the activities of its Commission on Social Justice and is helping to make Judaism really vital. We are no longer talking or philosophizing about the mission of Israel. We are trying to put it into action.

“On behalf of our Commission, I want to thank our fellow member Rabbi William F. Rosenblum for his splendid defense of the action of the Conference,” Rabbi Israel concluded.

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