A decision of nation-wide interest is the one reached at the annual meeting of “The Temple” which is one of the largest liberal congregations outside of New York, in regard to the social activities within the synagogue. The Temple, of which Abba Hillel Silver is Rabbi, has decided to abolish the extra-pulpit activities which have no direct relation to the synagogue and religious services. The Temple was the first to establish the so-called institutional synagogue about thirty-five years ago. After a study of the Temple Centers in Cleveland and throughout the United States, a Committee of the congregation arrived at the conclusion which was submitted to the annual meeting. The Temple has a membership of 1,500.
The reasons leading up to the decision were described as follows:
The traditional point of view has been that the Synagogue is essentially a place of worship, religious inspiration and religious education. Only occasionally was the Synagogue used for public gatherings, of unusual moment. This point of view still prevails throughout Europe and in most of the Synagogues of the United States.
Recently there has developed in the United States the idea of the Temple Center. The philosophy back of the Center is this: the whole of Jewish life ought to be integrated around the Synagogue. The social life of the Jew ought not to be separated from his religious life. Under the auspices of the Synagogue the individual ought to find full opportunities for his cultural, social, recreational and religious needs. It was also thought that by attracting the young people to the Synagogue precincts through social and recreational activities, they would then be won over to the specific religious program of the Synagogue.
Thus many of the larger Temples of this country equipped themselves with recreational halls, gymnasiums, dining halls, ball rooms and theatrical apparatus. In fact the social club was combined with the Synagogue; and the varied activities of the social club such as dancing classes, card parties, musical comedies and many other purely secular activities were introduced.
The Temple Center has now been in existence long enough to enable us to take stock of its contribution to the life of the Synagogue. In fact such surveys have been made. The findings have not at all justified the early enthusiastic claims which were made for the Temple Center.
1. In the larger congregations the Center does not seem to attract the members of the Temple families. It appeals largely to the unaffiliated Jews of the community-principally those within the immediate vicinity of the Temple. While this in itself is not undesirable, the fact remains that the Temple Center is not a Temple Center but a neightborhood settlement. It does not serve the families which are affiliated with the Temple and who should be the primary concern of any Temple.
2. Many members of Liberal congregations belong to social clubs of their own and the Temple can not compete with these clubs in the realm of entertainment and recreation. At best it can urge upon them additional social activities for which they have no need.
3. The crowding of many secular activities into the life of a congregation frequently causes men to lose sight of the real purposes of a religious institution. The voice of the Synagogue is drowned out in the midst of the tumult and noise of many activities which can be carried on as well, if not better, elsewhere.
4. The hope that young people would be attracted to worship and religious study through the magnetism of dances, plays, athletics and parties has not been realized. Young people are in the habit of selecting the things for which they care most. If they are interested in entertainments, they will come to them and if they are interested in the service, the sermon or the study group, they will attend them. The appeal of the Synagogue is not heightened through the bait of amusement.
5. It has not been found possible successfully to transform the large congregation into a congregational club house wherein all ages and groups will meet for their social intercourse. Our large metropolitan Temples no longer represent homogeneous social groups. Rather they reflect all the social strata in a community. While these elements will meet in religious service, in the religious school and in other educational activities, it has been found extremely difficult to have them meet in purely social gatherings. As a result most of these social gatherings in the larger Temples are attended by representatives of only one or two groups in the congregation and not at all of the entire congregational family. This has a tendency to emphasize distinctions and separateness within a congregation rather than the hoped-for fellowship.
6. The time, money and energy expended in carrying on an extensive Center program are inordinately great and are a heavy tax upon the Rabbis of a congregation. Many Temples have sought to solve their problem by engaging the services of a director of Temple activities. Such an office, how
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ever, does not absolve the Rabbis of all responsibility for the activities which go on in the congregation and he is constrained to devote much time and thought to them-thought and time which should be devoted to his specific religious functions and to his studies. In many congregations the Rabbi has been forced to become a practical manager instead of a religious guide and teacher.
These considerations and others lead us to the conclusion that the Temple should in the future devote itself exclusively to the role which it alone can perform in a community, namely as a House of Prayer and a House of Religious Study.
Jewish community life has reached a point where it should be departmentalized. Not every worthy Jewish activity needs to be carried on under the roof of the Synagogue. There is room in a well organized Jewish community for Community Centers, Young Men’s Hebrew Associations, Young Women’s Hebrew Associations, Jewish Theatre Guilds, Jewish Art Leagues, Jewish Social Clubs, etc., etc. The Synagogue ought to concentrate upon those basic community needs which have from its inception been its particular province-religious inspiration and religious education. Whatever energies the Synagogue can command ought to be applied to the development of its educational system, to the improvement of its educational curriculum, to the elevation of the standard of its religious instructors, to the extension of its educational field, so as to include not alone the religious education of children and youths but also of adults. The congregation should likewise apply itself to the enoblement of its religious services and to the task of applying collectively and individually the prophetic message of the Synagogue to the life of the community as a whole and the individual members thereof.
Whatever extra-pulpit lectures are held in the Temple building should have a direct bearing upon these fundamental purposes of the Synagogue. There already exist in every large community sufficient agenices-forums, noon-day meetings, evening courses at colleges, etc., for the discussion of secular subjects. The religious institution dissipates its energies when it duplicates the work of these agencies.
All in all, the Temple should aim to express its essential genius and not to cater to the varied and conflicting tastes of its membership. It should devote itself to quality rather than to quantity. It means nothing to Judaism or to the life of a Jewish community if the precincts of a Temple are crowded with people coming for entertainments which can be supplied to them as well, if not better, in theatres, moving picture places, dance halls, social clubs, etc. A few souls inspired in the Temple to seek the higher things of life, a few Jews taught loyalty to the sacred ideals of Israel, a few men sent out into the community as representatives of the best in Jewish life, are a greater triumph by far for the Synagogue than multitudes who may have been receiving entertainment and amusement within its halls.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.