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Rabbinic Council to Revise Religious Laws on Basis of Tradition Proposed for U. S

October 26, 1926
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The creation in the United States of a rabbinical council which would be endowed with authority to interpret, in accordance with the spirit of Jewish traditions, the Biblical and Talmudic laws in accordance with the requirements of the time, was the suggestion put forward by Professor Chaim Techernowitz, at the last meeting of the Chavrutha, a Jewish intellectuals club, held at the Broadway Central Hotel. Peter Wiernik, editor of the "Jewish Morning Journal" and president of the Club, was in the chair.

The suggestion of Dr. Tchernowitz, who is known in Hebrew literature under the nom de plume of "Rav Zair" and is professor of Talmud and Rabbinis at the Jewish Institute of Religion, stirred the audience.

Professor Tchernowitz presented his conclusions as a summary of his observations of Jewish life in the United States during the past three years. All three parties of American Jewry, the Orthodox, the Reform and the Conservative according to the speaker have embarked on a road which is not in accordance with the development of the essence of Jewish law. The most important place in Jewish life in the United States is now occupied by the prayer book and the synagogue, which are, viewed from the angle of historic development and judged by the place these were accorded in olden times, rather less significant and at any rate non-essential in the general scheme of things Jewish, he declared.

Reviewing the history of the development of the Halakah and citing a number of instances in the Halakah in which the Sages have interpreted and amended the original Biblical law in accordance with the spirit of this law, rendered necessary by changing conditions, Dr. Tchernowitz pointed to the fact that Jewish Orthodoxy in the United States is developing into a party instead of maintaining the position of the original reservoir of Jewish thought and leadership. When the prayer book and the synagogue building are the center of interest and when Orthodoxy is becoming stagnant and is being transformed into a party, it is not surprising that it is not led by the rabbis, the leaders of thought, but by the congregational presidents, or the political leaders, he stated.

"Traditional Judaism," he continued, "had this quality that while it maintained the essence of the revealed tradition, it nevertheless allowed development. Laws, as they are known in human history, are of a two-fold origin: one is of revealed religion or divine inspiration, the other of human legislation. The first, revealed religion, cannot be changed, except by the same process; the other can be changed by the legislators. The Torah from its very beginning had the religion and legislation. This found expression in the principle that while the basic foundation is of divine origin, its application was left in the hands of the scholars. ‘Everything which any devoted scholar is destined to introduce was handed down to Moses.’ This is one of the determining outlooks of Jewish law. The Biblical commandment of ‘According to the Torah which they will instruct thee’ embodies the combination of the two channels of legislation. Orthodoxy, in ignoring this circumstance, has placed itself in the difficult position in which it is now. The fact of the matter is, all the inventions based on modern science, such as electricity, the telephone, the telegraph, rapid transportation and the radio, greatly affecting the life of modern man, have been introduced after the close of the ‘Schulchan Aruch.’ A revision of the Sabbath law, for instance, toward these inventions, is a matter of imperative necessity.

"There is also great need for a revision of the law with regard to marriage, divorce and in matters of Agunoth (women who have lost track of their husbands) and Chalitzah (the ancient rite practiced when the husband dies without progeny)."

The Jewish reform movement in the United States was also discussed by the speaker. "In all history of religion," he said, "the reform movements were motivated by strong faith and the urge to greater piety. The Karaites insisted that the rabbis were too liberal in the interpretation of the Bible and renouncing the Talmud urged a return to the source, which meant the strict enforcement of the letter of the law. Also the Chassidic movement which has laid emphasis on religious enthusiasm could be regarded as a reform movement which rebelled against the stagnation of the religious laws among the rabbinic ‘Mithnagdim.’"

"In the history of Christianity, the reform movements were brought about through similar motives. The only exception is the Jewish reform movement. It did not spring out of faith, but out of a desire for adaptation. The reform movement is not based on faith nor on any particular philosophy. The reform movement, contending, on one hand, that Judaism is a religion but not a nationality and, on the other hand, basing its theory on the idea of "a Jewish mission, created a situation of contradictio in objecto and is wrangling with irreconciliable theological contradictions. The present day advocates of reform have entirely deviated from the path outlined by the founders like Geiger and his contemporaries, who wanted to establish reform Judaism on the basis of historic Judaism. The sermons of the reform preachers and rabbis in the United States are mainly of a secular and political character and are not permeated with Jewish religious thoughts. Some of these sermons even go into regions totally outside of Judaism.

"To add to its troubles, there is no leading thought which is binding for all rabbis. The reform movement in the United States apparently adheres to the other half of the previously quoted sentence. They leave out ‘according to the Torah,’ but they practice ‘as they will instruct thee.’ Each reform rabbi chooses what he finds expedient and ‘instructs’ as he sees fit.

"The Conservatives are," Dr. Tchernowitz said, "a fifty-fifty proposition. The Conservative congregations have neither the contents of the Orthodox nor the freedom of the Reform. Emphasis is laid by them on the Siddur (prayer book) which is indeed a non-essential in Jewish life. When the sources are consulted, it appears that the Siddur and the synagogue ritual are the latest and the least significant parts of Judaism," he stated.

"The great temples were converted by the cantors into a sort of cheap opera, where the music, which is mostly non-Jewish and an imitation of secular melodies lacking in proper taste and religious feeling, occupies the central place to which prayer is merely of secondary importance. These temples are becoming more and more empty, they are not frequented by the youth, who do not find there any religious inspiration. Historic Judaism centered more around the Beth Ha’midrash, the house of learning, around learning and not around the prayer."

Dr. Tchernowitz concluded his discourse by expressing his opinion that in previous periods, although the law was considered "closed" there was a "silent consent" on the choice of one or several rabbinic authorities with whom rested the power of decision. But this type of the Gaon has disappeared never to return. In these times of modern democracy the only way to insure the continuity of Jewish law and Jewish tradition and to fuse the three sections which sail without direction is to create a "Beth Din Ha’Gadol" to revise Jewish religious laws in accordance with the spirit of historical Judaism. Such a council would thus be given the authority and all sections would adhere to its opinions, he stated.

Mr. Moses Stoll, well known New York Talmudist, in a learned discourse opposed the views of Dr. Tchernowitz, arguing that no matter what innovations the Jewish religious law experienced in the course of its development and no matter what other innovations might be necessary, they were accomplished and can be accomplished only "within the circle."


The annex to Temple Israel, Omaha, Neb, was dedicated by Dr. Julian Morganstern, president of the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, O.

The new annex was erected at a cost of $40,000.

Samuel Sachs has been appointed chairman in the bankers’ and brokers’ division of the drive for $4,720,000 now being conducted by the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies, according to announcements made by Sol M. Strook, president of the Federation. Arthur Lehman and Edwin H. Stern will assist him.

Henry Morgenthau, former Ambassador to Turkey, will be chairman of the special prospects committee, and Eli H. Bernheim will be associate chairman of this group. The women’s division will be led by Mrs. Sidney C. Borg; the young men’s division by Mrs. Z. D. Bernstein.

The Jewish Education Association awarded five thousand prizes at three meetings Sunday to pupils who had shown proficiency in study and superior attendance records at three hundred religious schools in New York City in the past year.

The meeting of the Eighth District of the Federation of Jewish Sisterhoods will open today in Baltimore, Md. The district includes sisterhoods in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Delaware and Virginia. The sessions will last two days.

Rabbi Morris S. Lazaron and Rabbi William Rosenau will address the meeting.

Jewish Teachers of Brooklyn, N. Y. have formed an organization to be known as the Teachers Club, Affiliated with the Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities.


The Mexican government will put its new immigration regulations into full effect on November 1 at all ports of entry and exit along the Mexican border, despatches from Mexico City state. These regulations affect both foreigner and Mexicans entering or leaving Mexico.

Effective November 1, all national or foreigners that enter or leave the Republic of Mexico must fill out an essential requirement-a personal identification card.

The personal identification cards will be issued by the Mexican immigration agents, upon the payment of a small amount and the deliverance of four photographs of the applicant or applicants. Foreigners desiring to enter Mexico must solicit these cards from the Mexican consulates at the point from which they have proceeded.

Beginning November 1, even though the applicant be Mexican by birth, he or she will not be allowed to leave the Republic of Mexico unless provided with personal identification cards.

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