The Bulletin’s Day Book

Rabbi William F. Rosenblum, chairman of the civics committee of the Association of Reform Rabbis and member of the Inter-Faith Committee, which is now conducting a “clean movies” drive, presents the somewhat unusual spectacle of a man who brands himself a liberal and who at the same time makes an honest effort to live up to the implications of that term.

In another portion of today’s Bulletin you find an expression of some of Rabbi Rosenblum’s views on the subject of regulation of motion pictures. In his attitude toward censorship, or anything smacking of outside interference with the cinema industry, he reveals himself as a staunch and truly liberal champion of the rights of the film moguls to govern themselves.

But the motion picture situation is news, with a capital N, and today’s Day Book is only news in its embryo state. We promise you that in the near future it will become news, but at present it is still in course of development.

What we refer to is the blemish on Jewish life known as the “mushroom synagogue.” When a reporter called on Rabbi Rosenblum the other day to discuss the movies campaign with him, he incidentally questioned him on the subject of religious racketeering.

“The mushroom synagogue evil plagues us for only ten days a year,” the rabbi said. “It is a blasphemous canker on our religious body corporate, but it is ephemeral compared with the more insistent plague of ‘synagogues’ which are used by unscrupulous Jews as personal rackets.”

Even in his attack on racketeering of this sort, however, Rabbi Rosenblum revealed himself as a person of temperate ideas.

“I don’t for a minute pretend to say that a man must be an ordained rabbi to be a spiritual leader among Jews,” he pointed out. “All that we rabbis ask is that he be sincere in his desire to participate in religious guidance; that he be a fit person, morally and spiritually, to hold a position of spiritual leadership; and that he use his influence not as a base attempt at individual and purely monetary advancement but as an honest religious force.”

The Bronx and Brooklyn, he said, are particularly fertile fields for flourishing, all-year-round religious rackets.

“I have known cases,” he declared, “where sextons have established ‘synagogues’ and thus have taken to themselves the right to officiate at burial and marriage ceremonies, and have exacted fees by saying ‘kaddish’ for mourners who don’t wish to take the trouble of praying for departed relatives but who have a superstitious fear that the dead will return to plague them if prayers aren’t said.”

Among these religious racketeers, Rabbi Rosenblum told the reporter, are also men who have lost their positions as rabbis because of some deficiency in moral or ethical practice. These discredited ministers, he said, sometimes set up congregations or function at funerals and marriage ceremonies, despite the fact that they have been proven unfit to bear the title of “rabbi.”

He cited the specific example of “one young man, who gave up the ministry for another profession, indicting organized Judaism in most flagrant terms. Yet he functions as a rabbi at weddings and funerals.”

“What is needed in Jewish life,” Rabbi Rosenblum said, “is a board of approval which would issue certificates of qualification to all men deservedly entitled to act as rabbis, much in the same manner as the Jewish Educational Association certifies its teachers.

“Such a board could be formed by representatives of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Jewry or through the medium of the already existing Synagogue Council.

“Overflow services and special holiday services could then be conducted by men spiritually approved, to function as officiates. The approved list would include men who are not graduates of seminaries, but their qualifications would have been tested.”

“Present conditions,” he concluded, “permit any Jew to set himself up as a ‘rebbee,’ and if enough people take him at his self-valuation, he becomes one.”

/>—A. J. B.

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