Two decisions of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which concluded its sessions here Monday, are of interest to wide circles. They concern the endorsement of the extended Jewish Agency for Palestine and “a thoroughgoing revision of the Union Prayerbook, now in use in 400 Reform congregations and institutions in the United States.
Consideration of a resolution calling for a revision of the prayer book occupied the entire morning’s sessions of the conference. There was a great deal of discussion as to the advisability of changing the prayer book. Although a large majority of the members present approved the project, there were a number who were absolutely opposed to any drastic or thoroughgoing revision.
The resolution providing for this action read as follows: “Resolved: that the time has come for a thoroughgoing revision of both volumes of the Union prayerbook and that the Conference request the Committee on Liturgy to take this into consideration in its joint meeting with the Committee to be appointed by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
“This resolution was unanimously concurred in by the Committee and the Committee suggests, as a necessary preliminary to revision that the incoming officers appoint a number of members of the Conference to make studies of the various aspects of the problem of the revision of the prayerbook and to present the results of their studies at the next meeting of the Conference.”
Included in the resolution was an amendment proposed by Dr. Solomon Freehof of Chicago, that a committee be appointed “to circularize the members of the Conference and to ascertain explicitly and in detail the opinion of the various members of the Conference as to details of revision of the prayerbook. That this committee should make a study of the replies received and report to the Conference its findings.”
Dr. David Philipson of Cincinnati, a member of the first graduating class of the Hebrew Union College. Dr. Abba Hillel Silver, of Cleveland, and Dr. Edgar F. Magnin of Los Angeles, took up the fight against drastic revision, while Rabbi Samuel Goldenson of Pittsburgh, and James J. Heller of Cincinnati, argued in favor of such a step. Rabbi Goldenson declared that some of the ablest laymen of his congregation had expressed a sincere desire for revision, in keeping with modern life. A number of rabbis stated that large portions of their congregations come to service late, intentionally to avoid attending the religious part of the service. Rabbi Solomon Landman, who is in charge of Jewish religious activities at the University of Wisconsin, stated that the received many complaints from students regarding their non-attendance at services because of what they termed antiquated prayers in the ritual.
Rabbi Silver, while favoring a change in the present prayerbook, was strongly opposed to any thoroughgoing revision of the book.
“On the subject of the prayerbook,” he said, ‘:’to which so many of us have given considerable thought, it has occurred to me in the first place that we ought not to be, as a matter of psychology, revising our prayerbooks so frequently. One of the great values of a ritual is the very fact that in the course of time it gathers a host of memories which are stimulating and which surround the worshippers with an emotional atmosphere which is congenial to a soul’s expression of prayer. Otherwise, why have a ritual?
“What we should be concerned with is the intensification of prayer. I have seen whole crowds enter a church where the service was in Latin, where they did not understand a word, and yet received more soul-food than many of us receive from our perfectly proper, intellectual, rational prayerbooks. You are not going to save Reform Judaism, or any type of Judaism, by new prayerbooks. I am in favor of eliminating the patently objectionable portions. The trouble is that we are living in an age which is avid for change. Any new prayer you will give them they will tire of in ten years.
“This is an age that is clamoring for companionate marriage; let us not clamor for companionate prayers.
“I should like to see a committee of the best minds in this body appointed (Continued on Page 4)
Others who took part in the debate were Rabbi Abraham J. Feldman, of Hartford, Conn., Rabbi Louis Witt, of Dayton, O., Rabbi Bernard Heller, of Scranton, Pa., Rabbi Solomon Foster, of Newark, N. J., Rabbi Solomon Fineberg, of New York, and Dr. Julian Morgenstern, president of the Hebrew Union College.
Dr. Morgenstern pointed out that although the last revision of the prayerbook took seven years, it was, nevertheless, apparently done too hastily. The present age, he said, is one of change and progress. Reform Judaism is a Judaism which is in the process of reform and progress, and therefore, he said, there need be no hesitancy to reform the prayerbook which is the expression of the Judaism.
The Union prayer book was first is sued in 1894, and was revised in 1918 and 1921. Dr. David Philipson was secretary of the committee which issued the first edition of this book, and was also chairman of the committee in charge of its revision. The book is in two volumes, the first being devoted to Sabbath prayers, and the three high feasts, Passover, Shebuoth, and Succoth. The second volume deals with Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. The first part had its first revision in 1918 and a second in 1921. This prayer book is now in use in more than 400 Reform congregations and institutions.
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.