- Early Conferences.
- Controversies Regarding Reform.
- The Brunswick Conference (June 12-19, 1844):
- The Frankfort-on-the-Main Conference (July 15-28, 1845):
- Historical Judaism.
- The Breslau Conference (July 13-24, 1846):
- The Sabbath Question.
- Mourning Customs.
- Outcome of Conferences.
- The Philadelphia Conference (Nov. 3-6, 1869):
- The Pittsburg Conference (Nov. 16-18, 1885):
- Central Conference of American Rabbis:
- Reform Platform.
- Union Prayer-Book.
- Conventions of the Union of Orthodox Congregations of the United States and Canada:
Assemblies of rabbis to determine common courses of action or common principles of faith. Rabbinical conferences are a late phenomenon in the history of Judaism, dating, as they do, only from the fourth decade of the nineteenth century. There had been occasional gatherings of Jews during earlier centuries to consider important issues touching the life and religious practise of the people; but the deliberations at these gatherings, or synods, as they are usually called, were not participated in exclusively by the rabbis (see Consistories; Synods, Rabbinical).Early Conferences.
The changed conditions in the life of the Jews in the early years of the nineteenth century, owing to the emancipation from medieval legislation and the accompanying necessity of reconciling the religious beliefs and practises with the demands of the new era upon which they had entered, were the moving causes for the convening of the first rabbinical conference. There have been five notable conferences: viz., at Brunswick, June 12-19, 1844; at Frankfort-on-the-Main, July 15-28, 1845; at Breslau, July 13-24, 1846; at Philadelphia, Pa., Nov. 3-6, 1869; and at Pittsburg, Pa., Nov. 16-18, 1885. Besides these, mention may be made of the following: the Jewish Ministers' Association, an organization of rabbis stationed in the eastern cities of the United States, which met annually from 1885 to 1890; the Conference of Southern Rabbis of the United States, which existed from April 14, 1885, to Nov. 20, 1887, when it held its final meeting; and the Rabbinical Literary Association, which was organized at Detroit, Mich., July 13, 1880, and existed only two years. After the rabbinical conference at Philadelphia three meetings were held in 1871 at Cleveland, New York, and Cincinnati respectively. The so-called Cleveland conference (Oct. 17-20, 1855) was not strictly a rabbinical conference, since there were also a few lay delegates present. The same was the case at the synods of Leipsic (June 29-July 4, 1869) and Augsburg (July 11-17, 1871). Hence, these three meetings do not come properly within the scope of this article. The same may be said of the so-called French Sanhedrin, that met in 1807 at the call of Napoleon, and all previous synods. In Germany and Hungary, local conferences of rabbis are still held from time totime. The Central Conference of American Rabbis, organized in 1889, meets in annual session.
In point of fact, however, the first purely rabbinical conference took place at Wiesbaden in 1837, in answer to a call issued by Abraham Geiger. In a letter to a colleague, dated May of that year, Geiger had written as follows in reference to the purpose of the proposed meeting: "It is not intended to create a new Judaism, nor yet to assume the authority of a synod: it shall merely give honest men the opportunity to discuss the proper methods of conducting their office, and shall be the beginning of the restoration of the almost vanished spirit of Judaism" ("Wiss. Zeit. Jüd. Theol." iii. 321). This conference was attended by Rabbis Geiger of Wiesbaden, Aub of Bayreuth, Bloch of Buchau, Guttmann of Redwitz, Herxheimer of Bernburg, Kohn of Hohenems, Maier of Stuttgart, Stein of Burgkunstadt, Wagner of Mannheim, Wassermann of Mühringen, and Wechsler of Oldenburg. Friedländer of Brilon, Grünebaum of Landau, and Hess of Eisenach arrived too late. These men discussed various questions, but did not enunciate any important decisions. The mere fact, however, that they had gathered for such discussion was significant. A committee was appointed to prepare a manual for domestic devotion in accordance with the needs of the time. It was resolved to discuss in the pages of Geiger's "Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift für Jüdische Theologie" the practical questions which were agitating the Jewish communities at that time.
The epoch-making conferences have been the five mentioned by name above; they were respectively attended by most of the prominent Reform rabbis of the time in Germany and America; and their deliberations and decisions form an important chapter in the development of the faith.Controversies Regarding Reform.
During the opening years of the fifth decade of the nineteenth century the Jewish communities of Germany were stirred by religious agitation as never before; the issue between the traditionalists and the reformers was acute; the bitter opposition of Tiktin, rabbi of Breslau, to the appointment of Geiger, the most prominent reformer in Germany, had induced the officers of the congregation to address the rabbis of Europe for opinions on the subject; and these opinions were published in two volumes entitled "Ueber die Verträglichkeit der Freien Forschung mit dem Rabbineramte." The publication in 1842 of the new prayer-book of the Hamburg Temple (Reform) congregation had called forth from Isaac Bernays, the Orthodox leader, a declaration anathematizing the book and the reformers. These latter, in their defense, published a number of opinions of rabbis who sanctioned the reforms introduced into the prayer-book; these rabbis were, besides the two preachers of the congregation, Salomon and Frankfurter, the following: L. Auerbach, Friedländer, Geiger, Guttmann, Holdheim, Kohn, Maier, Mannheimer, Philippson, and Stein. The volume was entitled "Theologische Gutachten über das Gebetbuch nach dem Gebrauche des Neuen Israelitischen Tempelvereins in Hamburg" (Hamburg, 1842). The action of a society of Jews in Frankfort-on-the-Main in 1843, condemning circumcision, and resolving to abolish the rite in the future so far as their children were concerned, had induced Solomon Trier, the chief of the Orthodox of that city, to address his colleagues for opinions on the absolute requirement of circumcision as an essential of Jewish practise. These opinions, also, were published in a volume entitled "Gutachten über die Beschneidung" (Frankfort, 1814).
The time was ripe for the organization of a society of rabbis at whose meetings all these vexed questions could be discussed, and decisions reached for the guidance of the troubled communities. Ludwig Philippson, editor of the "Allg. Zeit. des Judenthums," recognized this need of the hour, as Geiger had done before him; and he issued a call in the columns of his journal (Jan. 15, 1844, p. 27) for a rabbinical conference. In this call he wrote:
"Let us speak plainly. The issue is no longer the permissibility or non-permissibility of this or that synagogal institution, of this or that alleviation for civil or social life: the issue before us is concerned with the entire content of our religion, which we must present and strengthen in its purity in order to rescue it from deadening rigidity on the one hand and from benumbing unfaith on the other. Judaism is losing influence day by day, and every layman is asking us, 'What are you doing?' The objects of the conference shall be: (1) to bring the rabbis into closer relations and acquaintanceship; (2) to promote unanimity in the conduct of the rabbinical office; (3) to further the founding of communal institutions; and (4) to deliberate upon all Jewish affairs."
A number of rabbis declared themselves in sympathy with this call, and it resulted in the convening of the Brunswick conference of 1844.The Brunswick Conference (June 12-19, 1844):
This was attended by the following rabbis:
A. Adler of Worms; S. Adler of Alzey; Ben Israel of Coblenz; Bodenheimer of Hildesheim; Adler of Minden; Formstecher of Offenbach; Frankfurter of Hamburg; Geiger of Breslau; Goldman of Kurhessen; Heidenheim of Sondershausen; Herzfeld of Brunswick; Herxheimer of Bernburg; Hess of Weimar; Hirsch of Luxemburg; Hoffmann of Meiningen; Holdheim of Mecklenburg-Schwerin; Jolowicz of Marienwerder; J. Kahn of Treves; Klein of Pomerania; Maier of Stuttgart, who was president of the conference; Philippson of Magdeburg; Salomon of Hamburg; Schott of Randegg; Sobernheim of Bingen.
The purpose of the conference was declared to be "to consider the ways and means for the preservation of Judaism, and the awakening of the religious spirit."
The resolutions passed by the conference were as follows:
"The oath of a Jew is binding without any further ceremony than the invocation of the name of God. The prayer 'Kol Nidre' is unessential; and the members of the conference were to take steps to abolish it on the following Day of Atonement."
The conference indorsed the responsa of the French Sanhedrin, with the exception of the third, which it changed to read as follows:
"The marriage of a Jew with a Christian—in fact, the marriage of a Jew with the adherent of any monotheistic religion—is not forbidden if the civil law permits the parents to raise in the Jewish religion the children issuing from such a union."
A commission was appointed to consider a number of important questions and to report at the next conference.The Frankfort-on-the-Main Conference (July 15-28, 1845):
The deliberations were concerned mainly with the reports of the commission appointed atthe Brunswick conference. There were present, besides the above-mentioned:
J. Auerbach of Frankfort-on-the-Main; Einhorn of Birkenfeld; Frankel of Dresden; Gosen of Marburg: Güldenstein of Buchau; Jost of Frankfort; Reiss of Alt-Breisach; Stein of Burgkunstadt; Suesskind of Wiesbaden; Treuenfels of Weilburg; Wagner of Mannheim; Wechsler of Oldenburg; Leopold Stein of Frankfort-on-the-Main, who was president of the conference.
The first report discussed was that on the retention of Hebrew in the public services. The conference voted unanimously for the retention of the sacred language. On the question, to what extent, there was a decided difference of opinion. The recommendation of the committee, adopted by a vote of 18 to 12, was that the "Bareku" with its response, the "Shema'" (first paragraph), the first and last three benedictions of the "Tefillah," and the selection from the Torah should be in Hebrew, and that the remainder of the service should be in the vernacular.
The conference also decided (in the affirmative) the question "Shall the prayers for the return to the land of our forefathers and for the restoration of the Jewish state be eliminated from the ritual?" Closely connected with this was the question as to whether the Messianic idea was to receive prominent and distinct expression in the ritual. This also was decided in the affirmative.
Although the conference voted for the retention of the "Musaf" prayer, yet it was definitely understood that the traditional supplication for the restoration of the sacrifices should be so changed as to be a mere mention of the sacrifices as historical reminiscences.
On the question of the reading from the Torah, the majority voted for the triennial cycle; and the reading of the "Hafṭarah" in the vernacular was favored.
The conference was unanimous in its affirmative vote on the admissibility of the organ into the synagogue. All the members but three agreed that a Jew was permitted to play the organ on the Sabbath, and that by so doing he did not violate the law of Sabbath observance.
The conference considered favorably the suggestion submitted by the Berlin Reform Association for the calling of a synod "in which the lay and the theological elements shall be alike represented."
The conference decided in the affirmative the question whether modern bathing establishments can be used for ritualistic purposes. A committee was appointed to direct the attention of the people to the need of theological seminaries.Historical Judaism.
It was at this conference that the irreconcilable differences between the traditionalists and the reformers received decisive expression. The discussions had shown that many of the members held radical views on a number of vital points connected with the ritual. Zacharias Frankel, who declared himself to be a champion of positive historical Judaism, desired the conference to issue a statement of definite principles. In this he was opposed particularly by Geiger and Holdheim, and, although a majority of the meeting was in sympathy with Frankel's views, yet the conference supported his two chief opponents in their contention that no definite declaration of principles should be formulated, because such a theoretical document would result only in antagonisms and would not assist in solving the burning questions of the day. Frankel withdrew from the conference, and became the leader of the adherents of so-called "positive historical" Judaism. Frankel issued a call in May, 1846, for a conference of Jewish theologians, to be held in the fall of that year, and to be the organ of the opposition to the Reform conferences; but the meeting did not take place.The Breslau Conference (July 13-24, 1846):
This was attended by:
The Sabbath Question.
A. Adler of Worms; S. Adler of Alzey; J. Auerbach of Frankfort-on-the-Main; Ben Israel of Coblenz; Einhorn of Birkenfeld; Formstecher of Offenbach; Geiger of Breslau (who was president of the conference); Goldstein of Waren; Gosen of Marburg; Güldenstein of Buchau; Herxheimer of Bernburg; Herzfeld of Brunswick; Hess of Eisenach; Holdheim of Mecklenburg-Schwerin: J. Kahn of Treves; M. Levy of Breslau; L. Lövy of Münsterberg; Pick of Teplitz; Philippson of Magdeburg; Sobernheim of Bingen; Stein of Frankfort-on-the-Main; Wagner of Mannheim; Wechsler of Oldenburg.
A number of important declarations were made on vital subjects, such as the Sabbath, the holidays, circumcision, and mourning customs. The conference expressed itself on the Sabbath question to the effect that the restoration of the solemn observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest and sanctification is incumbent not only upon the teacher in Israel, but upon every Israelite. Therefore special care must be taken in these days to insure the solemnity of the public services and to secure the observance of Sabbath in the home. Work which is ordinarily prohibited on the Sabbath is permitted in connection with divine services if necessary for the proper conduct of these services. If a man's livelihood is endangered by the closing of his business on the Sabbath, he may have his business attended to by non-Jews. If contingencies arise threatening the material welfare, any kind of work may be done on the Sabbath to avoid this; for example, in case of fire. Any and all manner of labor is permitted on the Sabbath in cases where human life—whether of Jew or non-Jew—is in danger. The rabbinical prohibitions known as "hedges"—rigorous interpretations of Sabbath laws—are no longer binding. Such institutions as "'Erube Ḥaẓerot" and "'Erube Teḥumim," which are mere evasions of the Sabbath laws, although their ostensible purpose is relaxation of the strictness of these laws, are both superfluous and inadmissible. The Jewish soldier must attend to his duties on the Sabbath. As for the Jew who holds a public office, although he is bound to perform the duties connected with his office, yet he should exert himself to restore the solemnity of the day in his home. Brain-work is not included in the categories of labor prohibited on the Sabbath.
The conference made the following pronouncements concerning the holidays: Congregations are justified in abolishing the second day's observance of the holidays with the exception of the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah. If, however, some of the members of a congregation should object to such abolition, these days are to be continued as occasions for public worship, but the prohibition to work on themis no longer binding in any event. The eating of leavened bread is permitted on the twenty-second day of Nisan, the so-called eighth or last day of Passover. It is permitted to blow the shofar on the first day of the New-Year when it happens to fall on the Sabbath. The same is the case with the use of the four fruits on the first day of Succot when that falls on the Sabbath.
The question of circumcision was made the occasion for a number of declarations, of which the most important were these: Every "mohel" should be required to pass an examination, after being instructed by a surgeon, and should prove by his credentials his authority to perform the operation. The so-called "peri'ah" may be performed with a surgical instrument if the assisting surgeon prefers this to the finger-nail, which, as a rule, is used for the purpose. The "meẓiẓah" is to be dispensed with. (See Circumcision.) A physician should treat the child after circumcision. A physician should examine the child before circumcision, and decide whether the operation can be safely performed, or whether on account of sickness or bodily weakness it had best be postponed. If parents have had the misfortune to lose a child, or a child has become a chronic invalid, owing to the operation, and they fear to have other children circumcised, they may postpone the rite until the physician declares that there is absolutely no danger from its performance.Mourning Customs.
The conference gave expression to some decided views on traditional mourning customs. It declared that such practises as the rending of the garments, allowing the beard to grow for thirty days after the death, sitting on the floor, removing the leather shoes, the prohibitions of washing, bathing, and greeting, have lost all significance in these days; nay, more, are repulsive to the religious feeling, and should be abolished. The mourner should remain at home for three days, counting from the day of burial. The mourner should also, as far as possible, abstain from business on the day of the funeral and for two days after the burial. Many important resolutions were referred to committees, but were not acted upon by the conference.
Each of these conferences aroused intense excitement; protests against the discussions and resolutions of the conferences being issued by opponents, while pamphlets in defense were published by participants. The Brunswick conference called forth a protest from seventy-seven German and Hungarian rabbis; also publications such as ", Protestation Gegen die Rabbinerversammlung von D. Deutsch, Rabbiner in Sohrau, O. S." In defense were issued; "Die Erste Rabbinerversammlung und Ihre Gegner," by Kirchenrath Dr. Maier, and the pamphlet by Holdheim, "Die Erste Rabbinerversammlung und Herr Dr. Frankel." The press of the day, notably the three Jewish publications, "Die Allgemeine Zeitschrift des Judenthums," "Orient," and Frankel's "Zeitschrift für die Interessen des Judenthums," contained articles pro and con. Feeling ran very high, and this was intensified by the Frankfort conference, which had resulted in an open break with Frankel and the conservatives. The bitterness of the feelings engendered is apparent from such an incident as the refusal on the part of Michael Sachs, the famous preacher of the Berlin congregation, to receive one of the rabbis who had attended the Frankfort conference.
A conference of the rabbis of Baden, held in the summer of 1845 after the Frankfort conference, declared for Reform on the historico-traditional basis. The Breslau conference called forth a bitter declaration from some Jews of Frankfort-on-the-Main, condemning the conference for its cowardice in not dealing fearlessly with the Sabbath question. This aroused the participants in the conference, notably Geiger, Philippson, Stein, and Wechsler, who wrote in defense of their action. These were days of "storm and stress" in Judaism. No further conferences were held. The hope of the founders of the rabbinical conference, that it might become the authoritative tribunal for the solution of the vexing problems that were agitating the Jewish congregations, was not realized, owing to the political reaction following the year 1848. In 1868 an unsuccessful attempt was made to convene a rabbinical conference at Cassel.Outcome of Conferences.
These conferences did not succeed in effecting their object because the differences in Jewry were too pronounced. Had they frankly and outspokenly taken either the Reform or the Orthodox position, they might have received acknowledgment as the authority from the adherents of the cause they espoused. It was impossible to satisfy all parties; the participants in the conferences represented many shades of opinion, from the extreme radicalism of Holdheim to the conservative traditionalism of the sympathizer with Frankel, although their main tendency was toward Reform. The conferences furnished at most a forum where vital questions were discussed, and expression was given to interesting views, but they did not attain an authoritative place. They were at best expressive of the conflicts and disturbances that were agitating Jewish thought in the fifth decade of the nineteenth century.The Philadelphia Conference (Nov. 3-6, 1869):
There were present:
S. Adler of New York; J. Chronik of Chicago; D. Einhorn of New York; B. Felsenthal of Chicago; J. K. Gutheim of New York; S. Hirsch of Philadelphia; K. Kohler of Detroit; L. Mayer of Selma, Ala.; M. Mielziner of New York; S. H. Sonnenschein of St. Louis; M. Schlesinger of Albany, N. Y.; I. M. Wise of Cincinnati.
The following statement of principles was adopted:
- "1. The Messianic aim of Israel is not the restoration of the old Jewish state under a descendant of David, involving a second separation from the nations of the earth, but the union of all the children of God in the confession of the unity of God, so as to realize the unity of all rational creatures and their call to moral sanctification.
- "2. We look upon the destruction of the second Jewish commonwealth not as a punishment for the sinfulness of Israel, but as a result of the divine purpose revealed to Abraham, which, as has become ever clearer in the course of the world's history, consists in the dispersion of the Jews to all parts of the earth, for the realization of their high-priestly mission, to lead the nations to the true knowledge and worship of God.
- "3. The Aaronic priesthood and the Mosaic sacrificial cult were preparatory steps to the real priesthood of the whole people, which began with the dispersion of the Jews, and to the sacrifices of sincere devotion and moral sanctification, which alone are pleasing and acceptable to the Most Holy. These institutions, preparatory to higher religiosity, were consigned to thepast, once for all, with the destruction of the Second Temple, and only in this sense—as educational influences in the past—are they to be mentioned in our prayers.
- "4. Every distinction between Aaronides and non-Aaronides, as far as religious rites and duties are concerned, is consequently inadmissible, both in the religious cult and in social life.
- "5. The selection of Israel as the people of religion, as the bearer of the highest idea of humanity, is still, as ever, to be strongly emphasized, and for this very reason, whenever this is mentioned, it shall be done with full emphasis laid on the worldembracing mission of Israel and the love of God for all His children.
- "6. The belief in the bodily resurrection has no religious foundation, and the doctrine of immortality refers to the after-existence of the soul only.
- "7. Urgently as the cultivation of the Hebrew language, in which the treasures of divine revelation were given and the immortal remains of a literature that influences all civilized nations are preserved, must be always desired by us in fulfilment of a sacred duty, yet it has become unintelligible to the vast majority of our coreligionists; therefore, as is advisable under existing circumstances, it must give way in prayer to intelligible language, which prayer, if not understood, is a soulless form."
The conference passed a number of resolutions on marriage and divorce, and declared that "the male child of a Jewish mother is, no less than her female child, in accordance with a never-disputed principle of Judaism, to be considered a Jew by descent, even though he be uncircumcised."The Pittsburg Conference (Nov. 16-18, 1885):
There were present at this conference:
I. Aaron of Ft. Wayne, Ind.; J. Bloch of Youngstown, O.; S. Falk of Buffalo, N. Y.; A. Guttmann of Syracuse, N. Y.; E. G. Hirsch of Chicago; A. Hahn of Cleveland, O.; K. Kohler of New York; J. Krauskopf of Kansas City, Mo.; M. Lessler of Wheeling, W. Va.; A. Moses of Louisville, Ky.; M. Machol of Cleveland, O.; L. Mayer of Pittsburg; L. Naumberg of Pittsburg; D. Philipson of Baltimore; S. Sale of Chicago; S. H. Sonnenschein of St. Louis; M. Schlesinger of Albany, N. Y.; S. Well of Bradford, Pa.; I. M. Wise of Cincinnati.
The following declaration of principles was formulated:
- "1. We recognize in every religion an attempt to grasp the Infinite, and in every mode, source, or book of revelation held sacred in any religious system the consciousness of the indwelling of God in man. We hold that Judaism presents the highest conception of the God-idea as taught in our Holy Scriptures and developed and spiritualized by the Jewish teachers, in accordance with the moral and philosophical progress of their respective ages. We maintain that Judaism preserved and defended, midst continual struggles and trials and under enforced isolation, this God-idea as the central religious truth for the human race.
- "2. We recognize in the Bible the record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as the priest of the one God, and value it as the most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. We hold that the modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domain of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, the Bible reflecting the primitive ideas of its own age, and at times clothing its conception of Divine Providence and Justice dealing with man in miraculous narratives.
- "3. We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and to-day we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.
- "4. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.
- "5. We recognize in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect the approaching of the realization of Israel's great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.
- "6. We recognize in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason. We are convinced of the utmost necessity of preserving the historical identity with our great past. Christianity and Islam being daughter religions of Judaism, we appreciate their providential mission to aid in the spreading of monotheistic and moral truth. We acknowledge that the spirit of broad humanity of our age is our ally in the fulfilment of our mission, and therefore we extend the hand of fellowship to all who operate with us in the establishment of the reign of truth and righteousness among men.
- "7. We reassert the doctrine of Judaism that the soul is immortal, grounding this belief on the divine nature of the human spirit, which forever finds bliss in righteousness and misery in wickedness. We reject, as ideas not rooted in Judaism, the beliefs both in bodily resurrection and in Gehenna and Eden (Hell and Paradise) as abodes for everlasting punishment and reward.
- "8. In full accordance with the spirit of Mosaic legislation, which strives to regulate the relation between rich and poor, we deem it our duty to participate in the great task of modern times, to solve, on the basis of justice and righteousness, the problems presented by the contrasts and evils of the present organization of society."
The conference adopted the following resolution on the proselyte question:
"Inasmuch as the so-called Abrahamitic rite is by many, and the most competent, rabbis no longer considered as a conditio sine qua non of receiving male Gentiles into the fold of Judaism, and inasmuch as a new legislation on this and kindred subjects is one of the most imperative and practical demands of our Reform movement, be it
"Resolved that a committee of five, one of them to be the president of this conference, be entrusted with framing a full report to be submitted for final action to the next conference."
This conference has been the only one to make a definite statement on the question of Sunday services. Its declaration on the subject was to this effect:
"Whereas we recognize the importance of maintaining the historical Sabbath as a bond with our great past and the symbol of the unity of Judaism the world over; and whereas, on the other hand, it can not be denied that there is a vast number of working men and others who, from some cause or other, are not able to attend the services on the sacred day of rest; be it resolved that there is nothing in the spirit of Judaism or its laws to prevent the introduction of Sunday services in localities where the necessity for such services appears or is felt."
The conference also recommended that each rabbi read only such sections of the Pentateuch as he thinks proper, but with regard, however, to the regulations of the Hebrew calendar.Central Conference of American Rabbis:
The first meeting was held in Detroit, Mich., July 9, 1889, at the initiation of Isaac M. Wise. The meeting for organization was presided over by David Philipson, with Henry Berkowitz as secretary. At a session on the following day a series of resolutions was adopted as the working basis of the conference. One of these fixed the position of the conference in the historical succession of rabbinical deliberative bodies, by declaring that "the proceedings of all the modern rabbinical conferences, from that held in Brunswick in 1844, and including all like assemblages held since, shall be taken as a basis for the work of this conference in an endeavor to maintain in unbroken succession the formulated expression of Jewish life and thought in each era."Foundation.
Actuated by the spirit of this resolution, the conference elected as honorary president Samuel Adler, the only surviving member of the various German conferencesheld after the year 1840; and Isaac M. Wise was elected president. The conference has since met in annual session in the following cities: Cleveland, 1890; Baltimore, 1891; New York city, 1892; Chicago, 1893; Atlantic City, 1894; Rochester, N. Y., 1895; Milwaukee, Wis., 1896; Montreal, Canada, 1897; Atlantic City, 1898; Cincinnati, 1899; Buffalo, 1900; Philadelphia, 1901; New Orleans, 1902. All of these meetings were held in the month of July, with the exception of those at Chicago, Cincinnati, and New Orleans. The Chicago conference took place Aug. 23-26, introductory to the Jewish Denominational Congress, held in connection with the World's Parliament of Religions; and, together with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, it represented Judaism officially at the Parliament. The papers read by the members of the conference, both at the Jewish Denominational Congress and at the general Parliament, were published by the Union in a volume entitled "Judaism at the World's Parliament of Religions" (Cincinnati, 1894). The Cincinnati meeting in 1899 was held in March instead of July, in order to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Isaac M. Wise, founder and president of the conference from its organization. An extra session was held at Washington, D. C., in Dec., 1892. The meeting at New Orleans took place May 6-10, 1902. The proceedings of the various meetings of the conference are given in detail in a series of year-books, containing not only the record of the business transacted and the discussions by the members on religious doctrine and practise, but also of the papers read at the sessions.Reform Platform.
Although the conference is open to rabbis of any opinion, it is in reality an association of ministers of the Reform school; and while it formulated no declaration of principles, yet its position in all its deliberations and proceedings has been taken firmly on the basis of the Reform movement. This was evident particularly in the discussion of the authority of the Talmud and the rabbinical codes. At the meeting held in Rochester in 1895, the president in his annual address proposed for discussion and decision the question, "What is our relation in all religious matters to our own post-Biblical and patristic literature, including the Talmud, casuists, responses, and commentaries?" The committee to whom the question was referred reported as follows:
"From the standpoint of Reform Judaism, the whole post-Biblical and patristic literature, including the Talmud, casuists, responses, and commentaries, is, and can be considered as, nothing more nor less than 'religious literature.' As such it is of inestimable value. It is the treasure-house in which the successive ages deposited their conceptions of the great and fundamental principles of Judaism and their contributions to the never-ceasing endeavor to elucidate the same. Consciously or unconsciously, every age has added a wing to this great treasure-house, and the architecture and construction of each wing bear the indelible marks of the peculiar characteristics of the time in which it was erected. Our age is engaged in the same task. We too have to contribute to the enlargement of this treasure-house; but we have to do it in our own way, as the spirit of our time directs, without any slavish imitation of the past.
"To have awakened the consciousness of this historic fact is the great merit of Reform Judaism; and the more this consciousness grows upon our mind, the more the conditions and environments of our modern life force it upon us, the more persistently we have to assert that our relations in all religious matters are in no way authoritatively and finally determined by any portion of our post-Biblical and patristic literature."
The notable achievements of the conference are: its preparation and publication of the Union Prayer-Book for Jewish worship; its successful representation of Judaism at the World's Parliament of Religions, as described above; its declaration on the requirements for the admission of proselytes; and, more than all, its uniting in one body the Reform rabbis of the country. The Union Prayer-Book is used at present (1902) by 158 congregations, in all portions of the country, having superseded most of the prayer-books in use heretofore. It attempts to combine the best elements of the traditional service with prayers expressing the aspirations of modern days. In its report to the general meeting, the ritual committee entrusted with the preparation of the work stated thus the principles that had guided it:
"Imbued with the earnestness of the task that was laid upon us, we endeavored to conform the ritual for these two great holidays to the spirit and principle of the first part of our Union Prayer-Book, to unite the soul-stirring reminiscences of the past with the urgent demands of the present, and to enhance the solemnity of the service by combining the two essential elements, the ancient time-honored formulas with modern prayers and meditations in the vernacular."
The declaration of the conference on the admission of proselytes, adopted at the New York meeting in 1892, is as follows:
"Resolved that the Central Conference of American Rabbis, assembled this day in this city of New York, considers it lawful and proper for any officiating rabbi, assisted by no less than two associates, and in the name and with the consent of his congregation, to accept into the sacred covenant of Israel, and declare fully affiliated with the congregation , any honorable and intelligent person who desires such affiliation, without any initiatory rite, ceremony, or observance whatever; provided such person be sufficiently acquainted with the faith, doctrine, and religious usages of Israel; that nothing derogatory to such person's moral and mental character is suspected; that it is his or her free will and choice to embrace the cause of Judaism; and that he or she declare verbally, and in a document signed and sealed before such officiating rabbi and his associates, his or her intention and firm resolve—
- "1. To worship the One Sole and Eternal God, and none besides Him.
- "2. To be conscientiously governed in his or her doings and omissions in life by God's laws, ordained for the child and image of the Father and Maker of all, the sanctified son or daughter of the divine covenant.
- "3. To adhere in life and death actively and faithfully to the sacred cause and mission of Israel, as marked out in Holy Writ."
The conference has published, in addition to the eleven year-books and the two volumes of the Union Prayer-Book, a Union Hymnal, and a volume entitled "Sermons by American Rabbis." One-half of the income from the sale of the Union Prayer-Book is placed to the credit of the fund for superannuated ministers; and a number of worthy rabbis, incapacitated from active service by age or physical infirmity, have been assisted by donations from this fund.
At present (1902) the conference has 149 active and four honorary members. Its constitution declares that "all active and retired rabbis of congregations, and professors of rabbinical seminaries, shall be eligible for membership." In March, 1900, it suffered the loss of its founder and president, Isaac M. Wise, in whose honor the meeting at Buffalo in July of that year largely assumed the characterof a memorial meeting. At this meeting Joseph Silverman of New York, who had been first vice-president, was elected president of the body.
- Protokolle der Ersten Rabbinerversammlung (Brunswick, 1844);
- Protokolle und Aktenstücke der, Zweiten Rabbinerversammlung, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1845;
- Protokolle der Dritten Versammlung Deutscher Rabbiner, Breslau, 1847;
- Protokolle der Rabbiner-Konferenz Abgehalten zu Philadelphia, New York, 1870;
- Authentic Report of the Proceedings of the Rabbinical Conference held at Pittsburg, Pa., in Jewish Reformer, New York, Jan. 15, 1886;
- Jost, Culturgeschichte der Israeliten in 1815-1845, pp. 234, 241, 259, Berlin, 1847, and Geschichte des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, iii. 379-386, Leipsic, 1859;
- idem, Geschichte des Judenthums von Mendelsohn bis auf die Neuere Zeit, pp. 275 et seq., Berlin, 1870;
- Israel Deutsch, Zur Würdigung der Braunschweiger Rabbinerversammlung, Leipsic. 1844;
- and the publications mentioned in the body of the article as well as the articles in the Jewish journals also indicated above; likewise the journal established especially for this purpose, viz.: Die Reform des Judenthums, Organ für die Rabbinerversammlung Deutschlands, Mannheim, 1846.
The great influx of Orthodox Jews—that is, of those who follow the rabbinical ordinances of Judaism besides the prescriptions of the Bible—within the last twenty-five years in America has made a union imperative.
The first real attempt to effect a union of Orthodox congregations was made on June 8, 1898, when a convention met in New York, in which fifty congregations were represented. H. Pereira Mendes was elected as president, and as vice-presidents Ph. Klein, Meldola de Sola, and H. W. Schneeberger.
The following principles were agreed to:
"This conference of delegates from Jewish congregations in the United States and the Dominion of Canada is convened to advance the interests of positive Biblical, rabbinical, and historical Judaism.
"We are assembled not as a synod, and therefore we have no legislative authority to amend religious questions, but as a representative body, which by organization and co-operation will endeavor to advance the interests of Judaism in America.
"We favor the convening of a Jewish synod specifically authorized by congregations to meet, to be composed of men who must be certified rabbis, and (a) elders in official position (cf. Num. xi. 16); (b) men of wisdom and understanding, and known among us (cf. Deut. i. 13); (c) able men, God-fearing men, men of truth, hating profit (cf. Ex. xviii. 21).
"We believe in the Divine revelation of the Bible, and we declare that the Prophets in no way discountenanced ceremonial duty, but only condemned the personal life of those who observed ceremonial law, but disregarded the moral. Ceremonial law is not optative; it is obligatory.
"We affirm our adherence to the acknowledged codes of our Rabbis and the thirteen principles of Maimonides.
"We believe that in our dispersion we are to be united with our brethren of alien faith in all that devolves upon men as citizens; but that religiously, in rites, ceremonies, ideals, and doctrines, we are separate, and must remain separate in accordance with the Divine declaration: 'I have separated you from the nations to be Mine' (Lev. xx. 26).
"And further, to prevent misunderstanding concerning Judaism, we reaffirm our belief in the coming of a personal Messiah, and we protest against the admission of proselytes into the fold of Judaism without 'milah' and 'ṭebilah.'
"We protest against intermarriage between Jew and Gentile; we protest against the idea that we are merely a religious sect, and maintain that we are a nation, though temporarily without a national home; and
"Furthermore, that the restoration to Zion is the legitimate aspiration of scattered Israel, in no way conflicting with our loyalty to the land in which we dwell or may dwell at any time.
It was determined that the object of the organization, to be known as the "Jewish Congregational Union of America," should be the promotion of the religious interests of Orthodox Jews. Questions of Orthodoxy in connection with the admission of members should be decided by a sub-committee of five. H. Pereira Mendes was elected permanent president. The objects of local unions were stated to be:
- "1. To strengthen congregational life, but not to interfere in congregational autonomy.
- "2. To advance the interests of local Judaism by the appointment of committees on congregational membership; civil legislation; Jewish presentations; city religious work (mission, circuit preaching); to devise uniform methods in Hebrew and religious schools; a union to send out rabbis for propaganda under the direction of the executive committee.
The convention held in New York Dec. 30, 1900, under the presidency of H. P. Mendes, represented 104 congregations.