Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Massachusetts Statute Does Not Bar Cantors from Performing Marriages

December 21, 1928
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Court Rules in Controversy Between Rabbis and Cantors (Jewish Daily Bulletin)

Judge Bolster, chief justice of the Boston Municipal Court before whom twelve cantors appeared yesterday charged with the illegal performance of the marriage ceremony, declared in open court that under the Massachusetts statute, barring any theological interpretation of Talmudic understanding of the word Rabbi, any person certified by a congregation, who files a proper certificate with State and City authorities, can perform the marriage ceremony in this State. The question of the ordination is to be determined by the congregation.

In the presence of Rabbis M. S. Margolies, B. L. Levinthal, Eleazar Silver, Leo Jung, and a host of other distinguished leaders of the Orthodox Rabbinate of America who came to testify in behalf of the complainants and to give the Orthodox definition of “rabbi,” Judge Bolster at the outset of the case prefacing his decision on the present controversy between the cantors and the rabbis, pointed out that he could not sit in judgment on a theological controversy but that he will rule in accordance with the statute, thus making it clear that in accordance with his opinion of the law those fulfilling the requirements of the statute can perform the ceremony regardless of the interpretation of the term “rabbi.” He made it clear those performing the ceremony must be elected by the congregation.

Every effort to reach an agreement outside of the court failed. A conference of rabbis, cantors, and laymen, called by Jacob Rabinovitz and presided over by Prof. Nathan Isaacs of Harvard, Tuesday night, lasting until the early hours of the morning, in spite of an eleventh hour agreement on the part of all parties to bar the case from the court, failed this morning when Judge Bolster insisted that the case be tried.

Of the defendants who appeared in court five were discharged for want of jurisdiction. These cantors will be tried at some other time in the various district courts. The cantors who were brought before the court were Messrs. Julius Karlsberg, Irving Wolkowich, J. Bargard, Max Halpin, and Jacob Mason. These cantors, with the exception of Cantor Julius Karlsberg, were found not guilty. The case of Julius Kalrsberg was postponed for final determination next Monday. The rabbis from New York, Philadelphia and other eastern cities who came to testify as authorities were not heard. Albert Hurwitz represented the cantors and D. W. Corcoran of the firm of Walsh & Walsh represented the rabbis.

Assistant Registrar Callahan in a statement made before the court made it clear that insofar as the city authorities are involved in bringing the complaint into court, stated that the rift between the cantors and rabbis and not the authorities had brought the case to issue. Mr. Callahan further declared that the city authorities do not care to prosecute the cantors, but that in view of the misunderstanding that exists because of the statute the court’s ruling will guide the State and City authorities in the question of marriage ceremonies.

While the cantors were found not guilty, the decision made by Judge Bolster has not entirely clarified the situation. All parties concerned have already reached an agreement that to eliminate further complication the legislature meeting here next February will be asked to amend the statute so that in the future both rabbi and cantor should perform the ceremony jointly in Massachusetts. A written agrement has already been drawn and it is understood that the representatives of both sides will sign this agreement with a view to settling the dispute that has raged in the state for nearly two years.

Recommended from JTA