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Rabbi Glaser Dead of Cancer; Was a Leader of Reform Movement

September 30, 1994
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Funeral services were held at Congregation Rodeph Shalom here last Sunday for Rabbi Joseph Glaser, a leader of the Reform movement who died Sept. 21 of lung cancer. He died at the age of 69 at his home in the New York suburb of Scarsdale.

Glaser was the executive vice president emeritus of the Reform movement’s rabbinic organization, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, a post he held since 1971.

He also had served in posts with the movement’s teaching arm, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where he had been a registrar and teacher at the Los Angeles branch.

Glaser was on the executive committees of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Reform movement’s congregational arm, and the Synagogue Council of America.

He was also a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, for many years heading its Scopes Committee, which determines the conference’s tasks and limitations.

“In that position he was one of the most fervent defenders of Israel,” said Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the UAHC.

Glaser also was a founding board member of the American Jewish World Service, a humanitarian organization which helps impoverished non-Jews improve their living standards.

He also served other humanitarian groups, dealing with California migrant workers, American Indians, Tibetan exiles and Israelis.

At the time of his death, Glaser was chairman of Religion in American Life, a non-sectarian group among whose goals is the strengthening of the nation’s faith in God.

Born in Boston, Glaser was raised there and in Rochester, N.Y. He served in the U.S. Army, serving in the infantry in Europe during World War II, where he was wounded twice.

Glaser held degrees from both secular and religious institutes of higher education, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of California in 1948 as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees from HUC.

He also received a law degree from the California State University at San Francisco in 1951.

Glaser was ordained a rabbi by HUC in 1956. For the next three years, he served as rabbi at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura, Calif.

From 1959 to 1971, he was the San Francisco regional director of the UAHC.

Glaser held central roles in many key positions taken by the CCAR. Among them was its 1990 decision not to bar any candidate for membership because of sexual orientation.


He also was a defender of the Reform movement’s controversial 1983 resolution on patrilineal descent, which said that Judaism can be passed on to a child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in April 1983, Glaser said the resolution had been widely misinterpreted. He said the resolution did not seek to restore patrilineal transmission of Jewish identity but proposed that the child of a mixed marriage be considered Jewish with the consent and cooperation of both parents.

He said the child was to be presumed to be of Jewish descent, and that this presumption would be validated “through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish people.”

Another controversial issue Glaser had to deal with was the role of non-Jewish spouses in Reform synagogues.

In an interview last October concerning the role of non-Jews in Jewish religious practice, Glaser said, “There’s a certain hypocrisy involved in having someone lead rituals which are limited to membership in the Jewish people, like an aliyah” to read the Torah.

“I am concerned that we are giving a message when we involve a non-Jew in the sacred rituals of Judaism that ‘what’s the point of converting or marrying a Jew, for that matter?” he said.

In an encomium, the Reform movement’s American Conference of Cantors called Glaser a “beloved rabbi of rabbis” and “treasured leader of Reform Judaism.”

Schindler recalled Glaser as “a staunch defender of the rabbinate,” “profoundly devoted to Israel,” and “someone who was very much interested in the camping movement.”

“When all is said and done, the camps are the most effective instruments for the transmission of Judaism at our command,” Schindler said. “The struggle for Jewish continuity has lost one of its leaders.”

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