Synagogue Membership in U.S. Outstrips Knowledge of Judaism

While American Jews are increasing in synagogue membership, there is no corresponding growth in their understanding of the true values of Judaism, religious and educational leaders declared here today. The speakers were participants in the program of a two-day General Assembly convoked by the Synagogue Council of America, central national agency representing Orthodox, Conservative and Reform groups in this country.

Like other Americans, particularly in the suburbs, Jews are identifying themselves as American through religion, but “we are confronted today with more religiousness aid less religion,” said Will Herberg, professor of Judaic studies and social philosophy at Drew University, Madison, N.J. “We are confronted,” he declared, “with the possibility that, with the rapid spread of religiousness among American Jews in the form of religious identification and synagogue membership, the very meaning of religion in its authentic sense may be lost for increasing members.”

The same “danger,” he stated, faced other faiths in this country as well as the Jews. A similar view was expressed by Dr. Max Arzt, vice-chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Dr. Bernard J. Bamberger, rabbi of West End Synagogue in New York, cautioned against “the trend of transforming synagogues into country clubs.” To win the young Jews who join the synagogues, he said, “we must offer a brand of Judaism rooted in knowledge of Jewish sources, relevant to the social needs of our day, and presented in very simple terms.”

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