Rabbi Israel Defends Endorsement of Labor Palestine, Denies Atheism
Menu JTA Search

Rabbi Israel Defends Endorsement of Labor Palestine, Denies Atheism

Download PDF for this date

The following is a letter to the editor of The Jewish Daily Bulletin from Rabbi Edward L. Israel, of the Har Sinai Congregation, Baltimore, Md.:

“I have been away from my desk for several days. Your editorial of last Sunday on ‘Rabbis and Socialism’ has therefore just come to my attention. As the chairman of the committee which drafted and circulated the rabbinical resolution which you attack, I feel the right to make a reply to your misrepresentations. I hope it will receive as conspicuous a place in your columns as your attack upon us.

“Your accusation that the Labor party schools in Palestine are ‘definitely atheistic’ is an absolute untruth. You assert that ‘the children there are taught that religion is the opium of the people.’ Either you are ignorant of the facts or you are willfully misrepresenting. I hope it is the former.

“No one will deny that many of the laboring masses, as individuals, harbor an anti-religious attitude because of the pitiful record of organized religion in its past failures to fight for social justice, or even, in some cases, in its definite protagonism of anti-social forces. The Histadruth as an organization, however, not only adopts no anti-religious attitude, but is positively cooperative. For example, in every one of its projects it prohibits labor on the Sabbath. A friend of mine, a Conservative rabbi, who spent the entire last Summer in Palestine, told me of having seen with his own eyes the performance and encouragement of Jewish religious ceremonial life in the Histadruth colonies.

“Only a day or two ago, I interviewed a college professor who had just returned from Palestine. He denied emphatically that the Histadruth schools taught ‘atheism.’ What the Histadruth opposes is exactly what we oppose in America, namely, an official association of ‘church and state’ whereby a religious hierarchy imposes its theology upon a political unit. Knowing, as you must, what misery this ‘church and state’ doctrine has meant in medieval and modern times, are you not inclined to feel that the Histadruth is correct in its general attitude along this line?


“Let me now turn to your argument that ‘one cannot endorse Socialism in one country and refuse to endorse it in another,’ and that, by this token, the rabbis who have signed our resolution ‘if they are consistent, would have to join the Socialist party in America.’ I must, first of all, call attention to your typically Fascist tactics of trying to rouse antagonism to our resolution by raising the cry of ‘socialism.’ The heading of your editorial is in the same vein. But, aside from this point, your argument is ridiculous in the extreme.

“Many a rabbi and minister and layman, Jewish or Christian, some of them in the halls of Congress, have, while taking issue with many things that have been done in Russia, endorsed the effort of the Russian people in their attempt to work out a cooperative economic society. Would you say that these people should, in all consistency, join the Communist party in America? Where capitalism has been definitely established as the accepted order for over a century, you naturally have to cure its ills in a different manner than that which you would pursue in preventing their growth in a comparatively undeveloped land such as Palestine.

“The Reform rabbinate in recent years has repeatedly denounced the tragic ills of capitalism. Some of us feel that, as far as America is concerned, immediate socialization is the way out—others prefer to try to cure those ills by some more gradual methods such as are represented by the most liberal policies of the New Deal. But what has this difference of individual opinion as to American conditions to do with our desire to prevent the rise of baser capitalistic exploitation in Palestine? One does not necessarily take the same medicine to prevent pneumonia as he does after he has contracted the disease.


“You then work up editorially to what you must have felt was a glorious climax in which you warn the rabbis not to make ‘class warfare in Palestine.’ You supplement this warning by some rhetorical questions. ‘Do the rabbis believe that the ideas of social justice are a monopoly of the Histadruth? Did the Bible, thousands of years before Socialism came into existence, give profound expressions to the ideals of social justice?’

“Well, first of all, I can well imagine that if there were a Jewish Daily Bulletin with your opinions in the days of the prophets, it would have written editorials attacking their espousal of the cause of the masses by saying that the prophets were trying to stir up class warfare in Palestine. That is invariably the argument of those who defend an unjust status quo against those who cry out for justice.

Then, too, if you had read our rabbinical resolution carefully, you would never have penned those rhetorical questions as an attack upon us. By those questions you merely reinforce our argument. We state that, on the basis of our modern rabbinical social justice program whose inspirations we derive from the Bible and the sages, the Histadruth’s program of social justice comes more nearly achieving the prophetic ideals than that of any other group.

“We definitely maintain that we do not endorse every specific action of the Histadruth or its members. We may feel the need and we reserve the right at any time to criticize the Histadruth. We maintain, however, that in its basic economic and social philosophy of striving ‘to build a cooperative rather than a competitive society in the land of our fathers…it seems to us to be at one with the essential principles of prophetic idealism.’


“Two hundred and forty-three Reform rabbis signed this resolution. Despite the efforts of the Revisionist sympathizer, Rabbi Louis I. Newman, to get them to withdraw their signatures, only two of the 243 recanted. And of these two, one refused to sign Rabbi Newman’s resolution. In fact, I should like to know just how many Reform rabbis signed the Newman resolution. It has never been stated. I do not blame my colleagues for not responding to Rabbi Newman’s gratuitous slur on their intelligence when he told them that they endorsed our resolution without knowing what they were doing.

“They have consciously made the social justice program of the Reform rabbis one of the outstanding forward looking documents of its kind. It was in complete harmony with the sentiments they have expressed officially that they, as individuals, set their signatures to the resolution which you attack. And from what I understand, most of our Conservative brethren and many of our Orthodox colleagues share our point of view with regard to Labor Palestine.

“It is about time that we unmask that Revisionism that parades as ‘non-partisanship.’ In matters of social justice, Judaism has never been non-partisan. We rabbis are not afraid of the names you call us or the misrepresentations you make of us because we dare to record our sympathy with the social philosophy of that Zionist group which best represents Jewish social justice.

“Edward L. Israel.”

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