Conflict Between Rabbis and Cantors Over Marriage Statute Brought to Court By Our Boston Correspondent
Judge John Duff issued summonses for the appearance in the Boston Municipal Court of 12 cantors next Wednesday when, before Chief Justice Bolster of the Boston Municipal Court, the cantors will be tried for illegally performing marriages. The bitter controversy between the rabbis and cantors here that has raged for more than a year will now be decided in the courts. Under the Massachusetts statute, as interpreted by the Secretary of State, cantors cannot perform the marriage ceremony.
The state authorities have the backing of some of the leading Orthodox Rabbis who charge that self-styled rabbis are performing the ceremony without authority either of the Jewish religious or State laws. The Cantors that will be in court next Wednesday are affiliated with some of the leading congregations.
Every effort to settle the question out of court to date has failed. Conferences of the Association of Jewish Congregations and of the Association of Cantors have continued for some time but no agreement has been reached. Leading rabbis, including Rabbi M. S. Margolies of New York and Rabbi B. L. Levinthal of Philadelphia, have been asked to appear here in order to back up the authority of the State.
The cantors as defendants will face the rabbis in open court when Judge Bolster, a non-Jew, will be asked to interpret the existing law. At no time in the history of the Jewry of Massachusetts has there been precedence for such a case. The efforts on the part of many who are neutral in the matter to take the case out of the courts has met with failure. Alexander Brin, editor of the “Boston Jewish Advocate,” has been asked to try to bring about peace.
Legislation in behalf of the cantors to remove the strict interpretation of the statute with a view of giving relief to the cantors was introduced at the last session of the Massachusetts House of Representatives but failed, as objections to the bill were made just at the closing of the session. There is divided opinion among both lawyers and rabbis as to the reading of the law, on the question of who is entitled to perform the marriage ceremony. This will be the principal issue that the court will be asked to determine.
A year ago the matter came up before the Secretary of State and after a conference with all of the parties, the registrar told the rabbis and cantors to settle the matter among themselves. A statement was later issued by Secretary of State Cook, defining what is a rabbi. This definition was decided upon among the Orthodox and Reform rabbis alike. The definition read “a rabbi is one who is a graduate of a rabbinical or a member of a national rabbinical body, or one who has been privately or purposely ordained according to Jewish law.”
Under this interpretation most of the cantors were barred from performing the ceremony as they are not ordained members of any seminary. The cantors made a strong protest but the State authorities told them that only a change of the present law can bring about relief. The marriages which had been performed by the cantors are not invalidated by the interpretation, it was made clear by those who are in authority.
Major Walsh, a prominent non-Jewish lawyer, will appear for the complainants, while Albert Hurwitz has been retained by the cantors. The cantors look upon this case as a test case and in the event the lower court does not reach a decision, the case will be appealed to the highest court, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
An array of leading rabbis including Rabbi I. L. Silver of Springfield, Mass., Rabbi Israel Rosenberg, president of the Union of Orthodox Congregations, Rabbi M. S. Margolies, Rabbi B. L. Leventhal and others are among the authorities summoned.
The law as it now reads states: “a marriage may be solemnized in any place within the commonwealth by a minister of the Gospel, ordained according to the usage of his denomination who resides in the commonwealth and continues to perform the functions of his office by a rabbi of the Israelitish faith duly licensed by a congregation, said faith established in the commonwealth, who has filed with the clerk or registrar of the town where he resides, a certificate of the establishment of the synagogue, the date of his appointment thereto and of the term of his engagement.”
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