Hillel Directors Hear Campus Rabbi Faces Clash Between Old Faith, Open Inquiry
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Hillel Directors Hear Campus Rabbi Faces Clash Between Old Faith, Open Inquiry

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The rabbi on the college campus was viewed here today as being caught in a “clash of expectations” between the institutionalized Jewish community, which expects him “to preserve the ancient faith among modern rebels,” and his university surroundings “which call him to open search and inquiry.”

The conflict is creating “a growing uncertainty of their role and direction” among the rabbis and other clergymen who serve as religious counselors to college students, Dr. Alfred Jospe, director of programs and resources for B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations, told the annual conference of Hillel Directors here. Eighty-one rabbis, who serve at major American and Canadian schools, are participating.

The problem is further complicated, Dr. Jospe noted, by the fact that major spokesmen of religion “maintain that religious faith is no longer considered plausible or tenable” by large numbers of students. He conceded that preaching and traditional liturgy were not particularly effective with students, and “there is need to use the idiom of contemporary thought and culture” to make religious observance relevant to students. But he also warned against a “cult of relevance,” citing a danger that “worship of relevance may ultimately destroy the relevance of workship.”

Similarly, Dr. Jospe added, the campus rabbi’s practice of “going where the action is” –Joining in student protests of social concern–does not necessarily “make believers out of students.” It may be, he said, that the student activists are “borrowing for their ends a respectability and legitimacy that the term ‘religion’ lends to anything in America. Student radicals have rarely responded by filling the pews of synagogues or churches as believers,” Dr. Jospe said.


Rabbi Jay Kaufman, executive vice-president of B’nai B’rith, in another address here, said that the campus rabbi’s involvement in social action affords him “the opportunity to add the Jewish knowledge and commitment which probably motivates students in deeds of social justice.” “There are no tests of faith,” he said, “no dogma to profess, no rituals which are the litmus paper of a student’s Jewishness. However, the ethical act is an authentic expression of his Jewishness, and that is where the rabbi on campus also must be.”

Hillel directors reported an increase in intermarriage counseling and requests for religious instruction in conversion. In most cases, they said, the couple involves a Jewish boy planning to wed a non-Jewish coed.

Announcement of a two-year $60,000 grant from the Charles E. Merrill Trust, to provide supplementary fellowships to Hillel and congregational rabbis for independent research and study, was made by Prof. Louis Gottschalk, chairman of the Hillel Foundations national commission.

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