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United Synagogue Leader Calls on U.S. Jewry to Commit Itself to Spiritual Values of Judaism

December 15, 1980
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A leader of the Conservative Judaism movement believes because American Jews live in an open, democratic society, many of them are not persuaded of the worth wholeness of their Jewishness, primarily because the religious dimension is missing from their lives.

In on address today to the national Board of Directors of the United Synagogue of America, Rabbi Benjamin Kreitman, executive vice president of the United Synagogue, asserted: “The choice is no longer to be a Jew or to embrace another faith, or to join another community. The choice today is between being a Jew or merging with the great mass of indifferent Americans, indifferent to religion and indifferent to ethnic identity or commitment.”

He said he arrived at this conclusion after discussions with rabbis and lay leaders of the Conservative movement. His findings, he said, are reflected in recent surveys taken by the United Synagogue.


Kreitman said the trend toward secularization is, in part, a consequence of “our emphasis on survival, ethnic continuity and concern for Israel. For those of the older generation, with a pragmatic outlook on life, secular survival values may be the common denominator that unites us all and therefore take on overriding significance.”

Continuing, Kreitman said: “Certainly, Federation, United Jewish Appeal campaigns and the fight against anti-Semitism are important. But there is more than that to being a Jew. The pragmatic must leave space for the spiritual. This phenom non has not appeared overnight. It’s been growing and intensifying as America socially has become more and more secular.”

Kreitman also pointed out “that until the days of emancipation under Napoleon, the Jew had only two choices; either to be a Jew and be counted as part of his faith community, or to reject its embrace and embrace another religion. Now he can be part of the vast masses of unaffiliated non-committed.”

He called for a new strategy which “at this juncture becomes even more urgent in the face of increased secularization. The Conservative movement, being in the mainstream of normative, historical Judaism, must bring back the spiritual and religious values to American Jewish life. Survival for the Jew must have purpose and a transcending spiritual significance.”

Simon Schwartz, president of the United Synagogue, called on the leadership of the Conservative movement to make use of its instruments to instill the spiritual values of Judaism in daily life. He said the United Synagogue must now intensify its efforts together with the other institutions and organizations of the Conservative movement to provide the kind of educational, youth and congregational programs that will active the proper religious goals.

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