Synagogue Council of America

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Synagogue Council of America (1926-1994)

The Synagogue Council of America was proposed at a meeting of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) held in St. Louis at the Twenty-Ninth Council of the UAHC. The conference occurred from January 19-22, 1925. Presented by Dr. David Philipson and Dr. Abram Simon, the resolution called for an organization to promote religious fellowship and cooperation "among the national Jewish congregational organizations" which was "eminently desirable for the advancement of Judaism and of Jewish education in the United States, and for co-operation with other national organizations interested essentially in religion and in religious education." 1 Representatives from the Executive Committee of the UAHC invited members of the United Synagogue of America, the Union of Jewish Orthodox Congregations, the Central Council of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada to meet with the UAHC to create the Synagogue Council of America.

The resolution was approved and the first meeting of delegates was held on June 9, 1925, at New York's Harmonie House where the aims and scope of the organization were ratified on November 9, 1926 with the adoption of the Constitution and By-Laws of the Synagogue Council of America. The preamble of the Constitution stated that the Synagogue was the heart of Jewish life, and as such, it was necessary that the representatives of the Synagogue should "take counsel together for the sacred purpose of preserving and fostering Judaism," and to that end, the Council would be composed of rabbinical and national congregational representatives for the "purpose of speaking and acting unitedly in furthering such religious interests as the constituent organizations in the council have in common; it being clearly provided that the council interfere in no way with the religious and administrative autonomy of any of the constituent organizations."

The membership consisted of representatives of the Central Conference of America Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly of the United Synagogue of America, the Rabbinical Council of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and the United Synagogue of America. Other organizations could also be admitted from time to time, and each organization was entitled to have three members and three alternates, with the alternates allowed to attend all meetings. 2

Originally, officers were chosen (Chairman, two Vice-Chairmen, a Secretary and Treasurer), and later, an Executive Director was added. Regular meetings were scheduled for November, February, and May of each year. According to the booklet, "The Synagogue Council of America: Its Origin and Activities," the three Rabbinical associations of the SCA (Union of Orthodox Congregations, the United Synagogue of America, and the Union of America Hebrew Congregations), had a combined membership of 800 rabbis, or 65% of Jewish chaplains in the United States. "Conservatively estimated, this means that the Synagogue Council of America speaks for at least one million Jewish men and women in our country, and is therefore representative of the religious affiliation of the majority of American Jews. If so, religious Israel has found a voice. The Synagogue Council of America must interpret that voice. Why then should it not develop a statesmanship of policy, authority, and direction." 3

During the SCA's tenure, the organization attempted to act as a facilitator of activities and dialogue between the branches of American Judaism as well as to the world outside of Jewish concerns. In this regard, four activities of the SCA serve as a basic primer of actions taken by the SCA: repatriation of Jewish sacred objects after W.W. II and Norman Salit's European trip during the 1950s; the efforts of the SCA to defend the separation of church and state and defense of the Sabbath; the awarding of the Peace and Judaism Award to dignitaries such as President Eisenhower, politician Edward Kennedy and civil rights activist, Martin Luther King, Jr.; and the SCA's efforts to reconcile the African-American and Jewish communities, as well as the advent of Black Jews in America and Falasha Jews from Ethiopia.

During World War II, the SCA worked on behalf of Jewish naval personnel from 1942-1944 to establish the observance of High Holy Days for servicemen. The SCA's Emergency Intercession Committee worked on behalf of European Jews by writing letters, resolutions, and statements lobbying the U.S. government to help European Jews (Box 8, Folder 7) . The efforts of the SCA on behalf of the Jews were unsuccessful in moving the United States toward a more proactive defense of Europe's Jews. After the war, the SCA worked particularly on behalf of French Jews through the Religious Rehabilitation Committee, which strove to adopt synagogues and persons in an effort to rebuild Jewish life in France.

The efforts of the Religious Rehabilitation Committee, circa 1945 (Box 13, Folders 8-9) documented destroyed or damaged French synagogues, with some photographs of a damaged synagogue in Bitche, France, in the Moselle Department. Questionnaires were sent out by the SCA which examined the synagogue building, the artifacts within the building that needed to find new homes, and number of worshippers still attending the synagogue. Religious objects from these desecrated Synagogues were redistributed to Synagogues throughout the United States, Canada, South Africa and a few South American countries. Articles that were found to be beyond redemption were buried in a religious ceremony at Flushing Hills, NY. In addition, the activities of the Aid to Religious Rehabilitation of French Jewry (Box 18, Folder 17) outlined the needs of the French community in regards to restoring functioning Jewish communities by working with the Central Consistory of French Jewry for Reestablishing Religious Life.

From 1949-1950, the SCA worked in conjunction with the German Expert Consultants Program of the Office of Military Government for Germany (OMGUS). OMGUS, the military government of Germany led by the United States after W.W. II, established the Education Cultural Relations Division in conjunction with the American Express Company. The SCA worked with this division of the military government in order to rehabilitate surviving German Jews after the Holocaust. German expert representatives were recruited to plan for reorientation and cultural exchange, with the Religious Affairs Branch of OMGUS recruiting 80 religious experts of various Christian and Jewish affliation to come to the United States to travel and learn about American religious culture. The SCA participated by sponsoring several Jewish religious leaders from Germany.

SCA President Norman Salit visited Europe and led SCA-sponsored tour groups to the Continent. This trip also brought him to Israel, making him the first SCA president to visit that country. In 1958, SCA president Gustave Stern traveled to Japan, where he and his wife met with Prince Mikasa of Japan, who was interested in the Jewish religion and culture.

From 1947-1974, the SCA worked with the National Community Relations Advisory Council (NCRAC) on the Joint Advisory Committee, which targeted several areas: religion and public education, religious observances in public schools, the separation of church and state, shechita, and blue laws and the Sabbath, among other topics. The Joint Committee wrote friend of the court documents concerning proposed changes to the Bill of Rights and Constitution regarding the codification of the Christian God as supreme in the United States. The Joint Committee also tackled issues regarding a United Postal Service release of a 1966 Christmas stamp portraying the Madonna and Child, stating that the image violated the separation of chuch and state as well as the Gideon Society's issuing of Bibles to children in the Detroit public school system.

The turbulent days of the 1960s and 1970s brought about the SCA's involvement with the Civil Rights Movement. The Social Action Committee worked on early issues of desegregation, Civil Rights, and the bombings which occured in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. The SCA also participated in the 1963 March on Washington. However, the SCA's involvement with civil rights reached beyond those issues as they attempted to hash out new Jewish perspectives on the relationship of Jews and Blacks, particularly those African-Americans and Africans who claimed Jewish lineage or wanted to convert to Judaism. The Standing Committees, Commissions, and Task Forces (1966-1974) of the SCA tackled social issues such as: social policy, urban affairs and development, Negro-Jewish relations, and aging and poverty from a Jewish perspective.

For 68 years, the SCA attempted to act as an interpretive voice of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox American Jewish communities, both within the three communities as well as to the larger population. Ultimately, the organization was overwhelmed by these communities on its demise in 1994.

According to the American Jewish Committee:

Relations between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox movements have been deteriorating....The breakdown of relations has been marked by a new sharpness of rhetoric and an unwillingness to seek common ground...Symbolic of the collapse of dialogue was the demise of the Synagogue Council of America in 1994, the sole body that had, at least nominally, collectively represented all the Jewish religious movements. 4

During the SCA's lifespan, the organization strove to provide a voice for the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jewish communities in America, and to that end, the Records of the Synagogue Council of America offer a glimpse into the programs and pursuits of the SCA.

A partial list of Presidents with materials in this collection is as follows by approximate date of serving: Rabbi David de Sola Pool, 1938 - 1940 Rabbi Israel Goldstein, 1941 - 1944 Rabbi Herbert Goldstein, 1944 - 1946 Rabbi Isaac Landman, 1946 (Died September 3, 1946 of a heart attack.) Rabbi Robert Gordis, 1948 - 1949 Rabbi Bernard J. Bamberger, 1949 - 1952 Rabbi Simon G. Kramer, ? (was both VP and President) Rabbi Abraham J. Feldman, 1949 - 1952 Rabbi Norman Salit, 1953 - Rabbi Theodore L. Adams, 1959 - Rabbi Max D. Davidson, 1959 - 1961 Rabbi Julius Mark, 1961 - 1963 Rabbi Uri Miller, 1963 - 1965 Rabbi Seymour J. Cohen, 1965 -1966? Rabbi Jacob Phillip Rudin, 1968 - 1967 A partial list of Vice Presidents with materials in this collection is as follows by approximate date of serving: Rabbi Simon G. Kramer, 1949 - ? Rabbi Norman Salit, 1951? Endnotes 1. "The Synagogue Council of America: Its Origin and Activities," NY 1931, Synagogue Council of America Records, I-68, Box 38/Folder 15, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY. 2. Ibid, pgs. 2-6. 3. Ibid, pg. 6. 4. Chanes, Jerome A. "A Primer on the American Jewish Community" (Visited on April 26, 2005)

From the guide to the Synagogue Council of America Records, undated, 1926-1982, 1990-1992, (American Jewish Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Paul A. Freund papers Harvard Law School Library Langdell Hall Cambridge, MA 02138
referencedIn Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Records, 1873-1985. The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
referencedIn National Jewish Welfare Board, Records, undated, 1889-1995 (bulk 1917-1990) American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Lelyveld, Arthur J., 1913-1996. Arthur J. Lelyveld papers, 1901-1993 (1950-1987). Western Reserve Historical Society, Research Library
referencedIn Jacobs, Harold M. Harold M. Jacobs papers 1888-1994 1950-1994 Yeshiva University
referencedIn Papers, 1947-1975. New York State Historical Documents Inventory
referencedIn Richard J. Israel Papers Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society
referencedIn Andreĭ Sakharov papers, 1852-2002 (inclusive), 1960-1990 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Synagogue Council of America Records, undated, 1926-1982, 1990-1992 American Jewish Historical Society
creatorOf Synagogue Council of America Records, undated, 1926-1982, 1990-1992 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Papers of David de Sola Pool and Tamar Hirshenson de Sola Pool, 1678-1981, 1889-1981 (bulk) Congregation Shearith Israel (New York, N.Y.)
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bamberger, Bernard Jacob, 1904- person
associatedWith Boy Scouts of America corporateBody
associatedWith Cohen, Seymour J. person
associatedWith Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969 person
associatedWith Eshkol, Levi, 1895-1969 person
associatedWith Feldman, Abraham Jehiel, 1893- person
associatedWith Germany (Territory under Allied occupation, 1945-1955: U.S. Zone). Office of Military Government corporateBody
associatedWith Germany (Territory under Allied occupation, 1945-1955: U.S. Zone). Office of Military Government. Education and Cultural Relations Division corporateBody
associatedWith Gideon's International corporateBody
associatedWith Girl Scouts of the United States of America corporateBody
associatedWith Goldstein, Herbert, 1916- person
associatedWith Goldstein, Israel, 1896- person
associatedWith Gordis, Robert, 1908- person
associatedWith Jacobs, Harold M. person
associatedWith Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Joint Advisory Committee of the Synagogue Council of America and the National Community Relations Advisory Council corporateBody
associatedWith King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968 person
associatedWith Landman, Isaac, b. 1880 person
associatedWith Lelyveld, Arthur J., 1913-1996. person
associatedWith Mark, Julius, 1898- person
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Miller, Uri, 1906-1972 person
associatedWith National Community Relations Advisory Council (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Conference of Jews and Christians (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Jewish Welfare Board corporateBody
associatedWith National Service Board for Religious Objectors corporateBody
associatedWith Paul A. Freund person
associatedWith Pool, David de Sola, person
associatedWith Pool, David de Sola, 1885-1970 person
associatedWith Rabbi Richard J. Israel person
associatedWith Rudin, Jacob P. (Jacob Philip), 1902-1982 person
correspondedWith Sakharov, Andreĭ, 1921-1989 person
associatedWith Salit, Norman, 1896-1960 person
associatedWith Shazar, Zalman, 1889-1974 person
associatedWith Sherer, Morris, 1921- person
associatedWith Synagogue Council of America corporateBody
associatedWith Tanenbaum, Marc H. person
associatedWith Union of American Hebrew Congregations. corporateBody
associatedWith United Nations corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Germany (West)
Detroit (Mich.)
United States
Bitche (France)
Moselle (France)
United States
Conservative Judaism
Jewish sects
Judaism and Israel
Orthodox Judaism
Reform Judaism
Working class Jews

Corporate Body



Ark ID: w6c00z8d

SNAC ID: 43749926