Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Orthodox Union Opposes ‘regularization’ of Presidents’ Conference

December 10, 1959
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Opposition to continuance of the Conference of Presidents of major American Jewish organizations in a “regularized” form was expressed today by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Continuance of the Conference on an interim basis as a forum of individual member presidents, and not as an organization of organizations, was urged by the Orthodox Union. The Orthodox Union made the following statement to the Presidents’ Conference:

“We believe it to be desirable to have a forum through which to coordinate and express the opinion of the American Jewish community with regard to matters of special importance to the totality of the community. We do not believe that such a forum can or should be established by the Presidents’ Conference in view of the sponsorship and auspices under which it originated and has functioned, as evidenced by its past activities.

“We recommend that such a coordinating agency be created outside of the Presidents’ Conference. Until such an agency can be created, we feel it is desirable to preserve the existing forum of the Presidents’ Conference, providing: a) the chairmanship of the Presidents’ Conference is rotated in intervals not to exceed six months among the member presidents; b) the organization headed by the acting chairman assumes responsibility for carrying on necessary correspondence and convening any meetings of the Conference which may be required during the period of its responsibility; c) the conference functions informally as it was originally constituted. The foregoing will eliminate any need for a budget and secretariat, personnel or permanent offices.”

The principal reasons given for the Orthodox Union opposition were: “1. The Conference is dominated by the Jewish Agency and Zionist groups; 2. More can be accomplished on behalf of Israel by a truly representative American Jewish coordinating body which is independent of political influences; 3. The constituency of the Conference is unduly restricted and does not fully represent the American Jewish community; 4. The manner in which the Conference is conducting its activities impairs the organizational sovereignty of its members.”

Moses I. Feuerstein, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, stated:

“The Jewish Agency originated and sponsored the Presidents’ Conference. It still plans to pay for 50 percent of the budget. While it is proper for presidents to be convened by the Jewish Agency concerning a crisis in Israel, it is quite a different matter for Jewish organizations to so identify themselves in an organization that must deal with the United States Government and other bodies. In such situations, the independence of American Jewish organizations will be of prime importance as far as their effectiveness is concerned. It is the height of short-sightedness to limit the effectiveness by exposing the Jewish organizations to such a charge.

“The problem is compounded by the nature of the membership of the Presidents’ Conference. In order to assure the Jewish Agency of control, the Zionist organizations comprise practically a majority. They vote equally with non-Zionist organizations, both secular and religious, many of which represent vast constituencies. While the record of the Zionist organizations in the United States is a striking one indeed, their purposes as well as those of the American Jewish community can be harmed more than benefited by the implications inherent in such an organization.”


Dr. Nahum Goldmann, commenting on Mr. Feurstein’s statement, said that the main contentions made by the leader of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations are “incorrect.” He said he did not want to argue with Mr. Feuerstein, but merely to correct the “distortions” he made. Dr. Goldmann declared:

“1. The initiative to ‘regularize’ the Presidents’ Conference did not come from me but from the presidents of a number of organizations who felt that after five years of existence, the Conference should operate in a more regular form with elected chairmen and a budget. I fully approved of this idea. It is the best indication that the Jewish Agency does not want to dominate the Presidents’ Conference because this regularization implied obviously that I should not be any more the de facto chairman of the conference since another chairman would be elected every year.

“2. The Presidents’ Conference was never ‘dominated’ by Zionist groups or by the Jewish Agency. The whole concept of domination with regard to the Presidents’ Conference is illogical as the Conference operates on the principle of unanimity and no majority vote can bind dissenting organizations. With regard to the composition of the membership of the Conference it was based originally on a kind of 50-50 membership as between Zionist and non-Zionist groups. The list of the presidents to be invited was submitted by me to all the presidents in the first meeting and was fully approved. If no new organization has been admitted, this was because of decisions of the whole membership. I personally have often advocated the admission of new groups.

“3. The Jewish Agency has never insisted on providing the whole budget or even half of the budget of the President’s Conference. We are perfectly willing to provide our share as one of 18 organizations.

“4. I want to conclude by stating that in all these years that Mr. Feuerstein has participated quite regularly in the meetings of the Conference, he has never raised an objection against its composition and the so-called ‘domination’ by the Jewish Agency or the Zionist organization.”

Recommended from JTA