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Parley of Reform Rabbis Hears Proposals to Make Judaism a Missionary Religion

Suggestions that Judaism again become an active missionary religion, as it was in the pre-Christian era, were made today at the opening of a three-day Institute on Reform Jewish Theology, held at the Hebrew Union College here under the auspices of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Twenty leading Reform rabbis in the United States and England have prepared studies for this Institute.

Rabbi F.M. Isserman, chairman of the Institute, announced that Rabbi Israel Mattuck, founder of liberal Judaism in England and rabbi of the largest Reform Jewish congregation in the British Empire, encourages Jewish missionary effort. “In a world freer than the present one from religious prejudices, Judaism may well make many converts and it should accept readily any proselytes who come to it with a sincere desire to give it their devotion,” Rabbi Mattuck said. Rabbi Albert S. Goldstein of Tremont Temple, New York, agreed with Rabbi Mattuck. “More than all,” he said, “we must propagate Judaism through active proselytism. Judaism is no more tribal cult. It is a universal faith.”

On the question of whether there shall be drawn up a definite code of practice for Reform Jews, there was sharp difference of opinion. Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof of Pittsburgh, a former president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, opposed the drawing up of any code of practice. “We Reform Jews,” he stated, “should be confident with regard to our form of Judaism. We are developing new customs, experimenting with new types of liturgy. We should not yet surrender the faith in our growth by pessimistically codifying our present practice. Our practice is not worth codifying now. There is not enough even to make the skimpiest of Shulkhan Arukhs.”

ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST PREPARATION OF REFORM “SHULKHAN ARUCH” PRESENTED

Taking the opposite view, Rabbi William B. Silverman of Duluth, Minnesota, said that he believes there is a “desperate need” for a code to serve as a guide to Reform Jewish practice. “Not a Shulkhan Arukh that implies divine sanction, but a suggested guide that can be used by rabbis and congregations to bring order out of chaos and offer a comprehensive and practical means for the observances of practices, holy days and festivals, that will serve to further the sanctification of God and the sanctification of life,” he emphasized. Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn of Long Island stressed that he does not believe a Shulkhan Arukh for Reform Jewish practice is either feasible or possible.

Advocating the preparation of “a kind of a Shulkhan Aruch,” in order to give a central unity to the diversity that now characterizes Reform Jewish life, were Prof. Sam Sandmel of Vanderbilt University and Rabbi Jacob P. Rubin of Long Island. “I believe that a corpus could be created which would give us an authority and a unity sadly needed and, at the same time, to be so written as to allow for the freedom and continuing development which are the keynote of dynamic Reform Jewish faith and practice,” Rabbi Rubin argued. Prof. Sandmel was of the opinion that “a standard of ritual observance, consistent with ethics and consistent with the age, is needed; that only as Reform Jews will cultivate inwardly outward symbols of religious expression, can Reform Judaism be a vivid and personal experience to Reform Jews.”

The statement to be issued at the conclusion of the Institute will represent nerely the views of the rabbis participating. It will commit neither the Central Conference of American Rabbis nor any other group. The conclusions of the Institute will be published.

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