Rabbinical Assembly Told of Efforts to Strengthen Conservative Movement in Israel

The president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinical arm of Conservative Judaism, called today for new efforts to establish a strong Conservative movement in Israel, Rabbi Ralph Simon of Chicago, addressing 500 rabbis assembled here for the international rabbinical association’s 69th annual convention, enumerated steps already taken to achieve that objective. He said the Israel Foundation for Conservative Judaism will coordinate existing programs and develop new projects from its offices in Jerusalem. Various fund-raising activities will be merged into one campaign to finance the activities of the Conservative movement in Israel. And, he said, architectural plans were being prepared for the Jerusalem campus of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the rabbinical and teacher training college of Conservative Judaism.

Rabbi Simon described the most critical challenge to the Conservative movement today as “the ability or willingness to make Jewish law responsive to 20th Century problems–to bridge the gap between commitment to tradition and need for change.” Calling for increased dialogue between Jews and the Negro community and Jews and Christian leadership, Rabbi Simon decried those who succumb to “the tendency to break off communication when conflict looms, or even in the face of outspoken disagreement.” He said that black anti-Semitism had “injected bewilderment, frustration and anger into our ranks” but urged Jews to a “continued effort on behalf of racial justice.” He noted widespread Jewish disappointment at the failure of Christian religious leaders to react vigorously to the threat Israel faced in June, 1967 and added, “If our ecumenical activities have not produced the results we hope, we must mount a new program of spiritual outreach to the non-Jewish world. We must not despair of the possibility of creative dialogue and withdraw into a 20th Century version of medieval isolationism.”

Rabbi Simon also called upon the Assembly and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) to accept the religious holiday calendar as it is observed in Jerusalem. Such a decision, he said, “would represent a striking demonstration of the spiritual centrality which Israel holds for the Jewish world.” This would mean that observance of second day of the three Biblical festivals would be non-compulsory. Rabbi Levi Olan of Dallas, CCAR president, was present and termed Rabbi Simon’s suggestion “extremely creative.” He said that he would present the suggestion to the CCAR executive board which meets this week. If accepted, this would mean that Reform would have to reinstate the second day of Rosh Hashanah in conformity with the Israel calendar.

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