Reform Rabbinical President Hits Jewish Secularism, Decries New State of Rabbi

The president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform rabbinic association, today called for action to combat the “dangers to the American Jewish religious community stemming from the secular-oriented synagogue in a God-ignoring society.” Rabbi Levi A. Olan, of Dallas, in his address before the 79th annual meeting of the CCAR, also urged a redefining of the role of the rabbi “who is heir to a tradition of an affirmative God-faith” but “now confronts a congregation whose members are successful and affluent without the help of God” and who “is troubled by the increasing irrelevancy of his high calling to the busy schedule in which he is imprisoned.”

Rabbi Olan described “our age as the most secular since the days of Constantine” in which one-third of the world has dedicated itself to Communism while others have become convinced by technological and scientific advances that they “can do almost everything without God.” He said that the Jewish future “is threatened by the colossal ignorance of Judaism of the modern Jew more than by any other force without or within the community,” and that while it is still essential to emphasize community fund-raising to ensure Jewish physical survival, “we must find new funds for our work in which we have neglected to a large extent the religious needs of our congregations.”

Rabbi Olan said that the rabbi’s traditional scholarly function has been subordinated in the congregation to that of an officiant, an administrator and a public relations expert since “it is the secularized layman who today defines the office of rabbi.” The result, he stated, is a spiritual leader “left with a vacuum which is then filled with disquiet, often frustration and, at worst, despair.’

The rabbinical leader restated the CCAR’s position in opposition to the war in Vietnam. “We are witness to a callous enjoyment of prosperity, a bacchanalian revelry of luxurious living and sumptuous partying while children are burned with napalm, boys are killed and wounded in the hundreds of thousands, homes are reduced to dust and millions are made homeless.”

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