United Synagogue Defers Action on Affiliation with Zionist Movement
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United Synagogue Defers Action on Affiliation with Zionist Movement

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Action on proposals for the affiliation of the United Synagogue of America with the World Zionist Organization was deferred today by the biennial convention of the central congregational body of Conservative Judaism. The convention adopted a resolution empowering the organization’s new executive body to decide the issue, with a recommendation that it continue negotiations with the Zionist organization.

The issue was put before the convention last night by Dr. Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Zionist Organization and Dr. Mordecai M. Kaplan, leader of the Reconstructionist movement, who urged affiliation. The proposal was opposed by Dr. Simon Greenberg, vice chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Dr. Goldmann told the 1,200 delegates that to have an “historic role in the life of our generation, the Zionist movement has to become more and more a representative of the totality of the Jewish people.” For this reason, he said, the Zionist movement must change its structure to enable any organization which wished to join it to do so. He stressed that the United Synagogue “could play a decisive role” by joining the organized Zionist movement.

Dr. Kaplan strongly supported Dr. Goldmann in urging the Conservative lay movement to join the World Zionist Organization as a body. He said all Jewish religious forces should be identified with the world Zionist movement, asserting that Judaism without Zionism “is not viable and has no future.” He urged the United Synagogue of America to join in time to participate in the next World Zionist Congress, scheduled for Jerusalem next July.


Dr. Greenberg said that, as individuals, members of the United Synagogue “gladly join hands” with all who serve the needs of the Jewish people but, as an organization, it should not join the World Zionist Organization. He agreed with Dr. Goldmann that the need was for Jewish unity and said everyone wished for an organization which could encompass both the spiritual and practical in Jewish life–mobilize world support for Israel, establish maximum Jewish unity and “embody an acceptable concept of Jewish status.”

Only the synagogue, he said, had adequately embodied the concept of Jewish status. The only valid definition of a Jew, was “one who is eligible for membership in the synagogue”–even more important than birth which is “not ultimately determinative.”

“We of the United Synagogue,” Dr. Greenberg continued, “believe that any organization which is to symbolize Jewish status must, above all else, prominently represent this conception of Jewish status, and any organization that implicitly, let alone explicitly, rejects it, will in the long run undermine the foundation upon which the whole structure of Jewish life everywhere, including the State of Israel, ultimately depends,”

Dr. Greenberg declared that “the United Synagogue cannot, as an organization, join any other organization whose concept of Jewish status or principle of organization relegates the synagogue to a secondary role, or even to the role of one among equals. At no time should the synagogue, as such, become another member of a group whose chief concern is not the synagogue. The World Zionist Organization, if it wants to recapture its place of leadership on the world Jewish scene, must formulate a program which goes beyond assistance, to the State of Israel and which contains a concept of Jewish status and destiny in the world to which the existence of the State of Israel is made subsidiary and not ultimate.”


Dr. Goldmann called Dr. Greenberg’s statement “an empty excuse.” He said that Zionism had been a political movement when it fought for the establishment of a Jewish State but that since the creation of Israel, Zionism had gone on to all other tasks which remained among the Jewish people everywhere.

He contended that the existence and future of the Jewish people were never in such great danger as at present because Jews all over the world were emancipated and becoming steadily more integrated into the life of the countries of their residence. This, he said, menaced the survival of Jews as a distinct entity and made the central problem now that of securing Jewish survival under these new conditions. He added “to realize this aim is the essential meaning of Zionism in our day.”

Dr. Goldmann declared that the first and foremost task was to secure the unity of the Jewish people, warning that once unity was completely broken, survival would become impossible. The Jews today, he said, faced three dangers: isolationism within the Jewish community, the cold war and the division of the world into two blocs, which separates East European Jewry from the totality of the Jewish people, and the possibility that, in time, a gap might develop between the Jews living in Israel and those outside Israel.

“To avert all these dangers and secure, despite them, the unity of the Jewish people is the central problem and the task of our generation,” Dr. Goldmann said. “It cannot be done by basing Jewish unity on a specific formula. Every concept must be accepted as legitimate and must find its place within the framework of the totality of the one people.”

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