Conservative Rabbis Took Radical Stand at Tannersville
Menu JTA Search

Conservative Rabbis Took Radical Stand at Tannersville

Download PDF for this date

“We in Tannersville will go further than they did in Wernersville.”

This sentence doesn’t apply to a bus or train or pleasure jaunt. It merely epitomizes the expression of a state of mind extant to a considerable degree at the three-day convention of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Jewish Theological Seminary at Tannersville.

Whether these conservative rabbis really did go further than their reform colleagues in the stand on social justice taken by the latter’s convention in Wernersville, Pa., is problematical because the theme of the desired social program—the call for socialization of basic instrumentalities such as banking and credit, transportation, utilities, etc., is virtually the same.

But Tannersville certainly went as far as Wernersville—and that is epochal. No such pronunciamento for recreating the social order and maintaining peace has ever come from the Assembly, we were given to understand. And their statements debunking ‘rugged individualism’ would make some of Norman Thomas’s speeches look mild.


To those at the convention, it wasn’t difficult to comprehend this: most of the active members are young men, many of whom apparently do their own thinking along social and economic lines, limiting their conservatism to the traditional theological dogma which they preach as ordained rabbis. Some could even fit easily into the radical sphere and one or two were even ‘kidded’ by their colleagues who hailed them as ‘Comrade.’

But jump at no immediate conclusion: there are ultra-conservatives in the ranks, too. Remember that the Social Justice Committee report was adopted by majority and not unanimous vote. It might, therefore be better to strike a balance and call it a predominantly liberal convention.

To a layman of liberal tendencies, the impromptu discussions at the dinner Wednesday, following the reading of papers on treatment of anti-Jewish activities here—the principal treatises being submitted by Morris D. Waldman, secretary of the American Jewish Committee, and Dr. Solomon Grayzel, Philadelphia rabbi and historian—were refreshing.


One could only judge that the younger men refused to shut their eyes piously to actualities; they readily acknowledged that most of the anti-Jewish venom is economic-inspired. And some of their elder leaders—no less a personage than Dr. Mordecai Kaplan among them—didn’t hesitate to “pan,” to use a collequial term, their colleague Grayzel for failing to state that Soviet Russia was the only country to “outlaw anti-Semitism,” a phenomenon which Dr. Kaplan held inspired hope for Jews elsewhere.

And for that matter, Dr. Kaplan also took issue with the American Jewish Committee for what he termed an attitude of “apology” for any belief of German Jews in Communism, which he charged was contained in Waldman’s paper. Freedom of conscience should be supreme, he maintained, and hence any Jews in Germany had the same right as Christians to believe in Communism if that was their ideal.

Rabbi J. Max Weis who had read Waldman’s paper to the Assembly replied that the Jewish Committee executive had intended no “apology” for German Jewry and that Dr. Kaplan had misunderstood the context of the statements.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund