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Return to Traditional Practice Urged on Reform Rabbis by Levy

May 26, 1937
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Admitting that Reform Judaism has failed to make “any deep impression upon the great bulk of Jewry,” Dr. Felix A. Levy, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis declared tonight that “our reformation days are over” and urged a return to traditional practice.

In a momentous presidential message, Dr. Levy called on the 48th annual convention of the Conference to find “revivification by contact with the masses of Jews and their way of life” and to work with Orthodox and Conservative Jewry “to oppose the dangers of secularism.”

The message painted the way to a complete reorientation of the outlook of Reform in America. Dr. Levy himself admitted that it was “an approach to Conservatism,” and asked a united front of the “religiously minded Jews.”

He concluded: “Our ‘reformation days’ are over. Now comes the harder labor of directing Jewish life into proper channels, to safeguard our values and preserve our people. Israel lives and in it we live and breathe and have our being.”

The concrete recommendations contained in the message were:

1-Appointment of a committee to “draw up a code of rules for guidance in practice…and thereby approximate to a uniformity of ritual so sadly needed.”

2-Concurrence in a resolution for Sabbath service presented at the Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

3-Consideration to the problem of attracting the working classes — including the Yiddish element — the method to be determined by the Conference in conjunction with the Union.

4-Appointment of a committee to consider a method of cooperation with the Rabbinical Assembly, “with the and in view of strengthening Jewish life by a more positive attitude toward practice.”

5-Drawing up of a memorandum opposing the proposed Palestine legislative council, the limiting of Jewish immigration and “emphasizing our belief that Great Britain must live up to the spirit of the mandate to assure the Jewish people the creation of a homeland.” This memorandum would be given to the President, the Secretary of State and the British Ambassador by a committee representing the Conference, the Assembly, the Agudath Ha-Rabbanim, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Synagogue Council and the Union of Orthodox Congregations.

6-Appointment of a coordinator to coordinate the work of the Conference, the Union and its schools.

7-Adaption of a resolution that “the rabbi’s services are not a marketable commodity” and that “any individual affiliated members of a community that can afford to support a congregation and do not do so shall not be entitled to the services of a minister.”

Dr. Levy opened his message by declaring that Jewish life “is not as positive or as vigorous as could be desired” and attacking “the corrosive acid of materialism” which he said had “left the festering sores of Nazism, Fascism and Stalinism, exalted disunity, sanctified brutality and apotheosized the dictator.”

Emphasizing the service of Reform in making “the Jew at home in the world” by “destroying the obsolete, the ugly and the worthless in the temple,” Dr. Levy asserted that nevertheless “we find ourselves today more or less high and dry, without having made any deep impression upon the great bulk of Jewry and an inconsiderable one upon our own followers.”

He admitted that the followers “have gone a bit further in destruction of Jewish features than our movement ever intended; they have almost completely discarded the legal aspects of Judaism; they keep to nothing of ceremonial, Sabbath and holy day and Jewishly are undifferentiated for the most part from their non-Jewish neighbors. Common conceptions of reform are that it exacts nothing by way of discipline, that it demands simply obedience to the moral law, that every individual may do what is right in his own eyes.”

“What we need,” he said, “is revivification by contact with the masses of Jews and their way of life, divergent even though these may be from our own. No Jewish movement ever succeeded without this.”

Describing how the Haskalah and Reform “never achieved their objectives for they failed to reach the main layer of our people,” he said that Haskalah had “stepped aside” and declared that “we must ask ourselves whether the time has not arrived for us to do likewise and wait for Jewry at large to assimilate further our ideas and for our re-absorption in our people.”

Dr. Levy, touching on the question of “rich and poor” in Reform Judaism, admitted that the temples are locked on by the Jewish masses as “houses of the rich” and the movement reproached as “bourgeois.”

“Even our social justice pronouncements have not attracted “‘labor,'” he asserted, “and they have offended some munificent donors to the congregations and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. We must devise some way whereby not only are the masses to be attracted to our services but that they can become participating members on a par with their employers.”

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