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Reform, Conservative Rabbis Invite Orthodox to Join Opposition to Growing Secularism

The leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism in America called on their Orthodox colleagues today to join them in a combined effort to challenge the growing forces of secularism in the country and particularly the spreading indifference of American Jewish youth toward religion. But Rabbi Levi A. Olan, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinic arm of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Ralph Simon, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, its Conservative counterpart, said they doubted that the Orthodox rabbinate would heed their call.

The two rabbis spoke at the 80th annual convention of the CCAR. It was the first occasion at which the head of the rabbinic branch of Conservative Judaism addressed an assembly of Reform rabbis. Rabbi Olan spoke at the Conservative group’s convention last March.

They said that despite concern over the rise of secularism shared by the three branches of Judaism, they did not believe the Orthodox would join in their proposed joint action program. They cited the theological and interpretive differences in their practices of observing Jewish law and festivals, the divisions between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel and a generally “cool” attitude on the part of the Orthodox establishment toward their Reform and Conservative colleagues.

Rabbis Olan and Simon agreed that continued unified action between their respective bodies was desirable but stressed that this in no way represented a move toward the merger of the two movements. Rabbi Simon said he felt that both groups were “too deeply committed to volunteerism, experimentation and intellectual independence to be regimented into one pattern of religious expression.”

In another development here, the CCAR convention voted 123-108 to end its requirement that newly ordained rabbis serve as military chaplains for two years. In place of the self-imposed draft, a voluntary system of chaplaincy was adopted. The vote, coming after a three hour debate, reflected the growing objection among rabbinic students to serving in the military during the Vietnam war and to the Government’s policy on Vietnam generally. The move to volunteerism put the Reform body in line with the Conservative and Orthodox movements on this issue. The Rabbinical Assembly, and Yeshiva University in New York, the major Orthodox institution of higher learning, both ended their self-imposed chaplaincy draft last year in favor of a voluntary system.

The convention vote in effect rejected the recommendation of the CCAR’s executive board that would have continued the draft system. Abandonment of the draft was urged in a report submitted by the CCAR’s -chaplaincy committee. If insufficient volunteers responded, an amendment said, the issue will be taken up again at the 1971 convention.

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