American council for Judaism

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The American Council for Judaism was founded in 1943 by Americans of Jewish faith who believed that Judaism was a religion and not a nationality. The founding of the ACJ partly resulted from the refusal of the American Jewish Committee to clearly oppose Zionism in the 1940s. Many of the council's early leaders came from an upper class German Jewish socioeconomic group that also formed the basis of the American Jewish Committee's leadership. ACJ's philosophy supports the integration of Jews into the civic culture of America unhampered by the segregationism of Zionism. The ACJ's ideology reflects the universalistic platform of nineteenth-century Reform Judaism, coupled with a concern over the issue of dual loyalty.

From the guide to the American Council for Judaism collection, undated, 1943-1991, (American Jewish Historical Society)

Founded in 1942 by a group of Jewish Reform rabbis and lay leaders in order to express their opposition to zionism based on the feeling that zionist organizations reflected a nationalistic rather than religious interpretation of Judaism.

From the description of Records, 1937-1968 (bulk 1957-1961). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70958903

Reform Jewish, anti-Zionist organization.

From the description of American Council for Judaism memorandum, 1969 Mar. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 694520404

In 1942, at its annual conference held that year in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Central Conference of American Rabbis ( CCAR ) passed a pro-Zionist resolution supporting the formation of a Jewish army in Palestine. This resolution nullified a 1935 CCAR agreement which stated that the CCAR would remain neutral on the Zionist issue. Immediately after the 1942 conference, several non-Zionist rabbis met to discuss their displeasure with the resolution.

As a result of this meeting, sixteen CCAR rabbis, led by men such as Louis Wolsey, William Fineshriber, and Morris Lazaron, addressed letters to CCAR members concerning the formation of a Jewish "anti-nationalist" organization. Although various attempts were made to appease the "anti-nationalists" (on the grounds that they would split the CCAR as well as the American Jewish community) they remained adamant and held a meeting in early June.

At this meeting a "Statement of Principles" was formulated. In essence, the "Principles" declared that the non-Zionists supported Palestine and Palestinean rehabilitation but, in light of their universalistic interpretation of Jewish history and destiny, and also their concern for the welfare and status of the Jewish people living in other parts of the world, they could not "subscribe to or support the political emphasis now paramount in the Zionist program." Futhermore, they could not help but believe "that Jewish nationalism tends to confuse our fellowmen about our place and function in society and diverts our own attention from our historic role to live as a religious community wherever we may dwell."

In August of that year, this "Statement," signed by 90 Reform rabbis and lay leaders, was released to the press. By the end of 1942, this group of "anti-nationalists" had chosen a name for itself: the American Council for Judaism ( ACJ ). They adopted a constitution and named Elmer Berger, a rabbi from Flint, Michigan, as executive director. On March 19, 1943 the American Council for Judaism was incorporated in the state of New York and, by the end of the year, a slate of officers was selected. As president, the Council chose Lessing Rosenwald; as vice-presidents, Rabbi Louis Binstock, Fred F. Florence, Ralph W. Mack, Rabbi Irving Reichert and Rabbi Louis Wolsey; and as treasurer, D. Hays Solis-Cohen.

Because the Council felt it represented the views of the majority of American Jews, it began its anti-Zionist campaign with a massive membership drive. By 1946, the ACJ had numerous local chapters and had established regional offices in Richmond, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco.

Throughout its existence the Council continued its membership solicitations while also maintaining a vigorous publicity campaign through press releases and the publication of various articles, pamphlets, and journals. To demonstrate that the American Zionists did not reflect the opinions of all American Jews, the ACJ addressed letters to various government officials, expressing their opposition to the establishment of Palestine or any other independent locality as a Jewish state. Instead, the ACJ advocated a policy of rehabilitating European Jewry through a restoration of civil, political, and economic security in those nations containing a Jewish population.

The ACJ was initially created to represent a religious opposition to political Zionism. But with the appointment of Sidney Wallach, a layman, as public relations representative and the election of several lay officers, the religious aspects were de-emphasized. Indeed, some of the rabbinic pioneers of the idea to create a non-Zionist organization never joined the ACJ, claiming the Council represented anti-Zionism rather than pro-Judaism. With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and the ACJ 's announced intent to continue its anti-Zionist program, several prominent Reform rabbis, among them ACJ founder Louis Wolsey, resigned from the Council.

After 1948, through press releases and other commentary, the Council continued its opposition to the establishment of Israel, but it also expanded its program to include non-political aspects of its opposition to Zionism. In the early 1950s the ACJ provided aid to Christian and Moslem refugees from Palestine. In 1955, the Philanthropic Fund of the American Council for Judaism was established to provide assistance to Jews within their own countries and to aid Jewish and non-Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Arab countries.

In 1952, the Council opened Sunday schools, based on a program of universal Judaism, in Milwaukee, Westchester (New York), New York City, and Chicago. By 1954 the Council was progressing with a multi-faceted program of creating religious tests free of nationalist bias, conducting annual teachers' institutes and distributing a serial entitled Education in Judaism .

In 1955, Elmer Berger advocated the complete assimilation of Jews into American life through a program which called for the establishment of Sunday as the official Jewish day of worship, the designing of a new menorah which "would reflect the appreciation of American Jews of the freedom of life in the United States," and the interpretation of the holiday of Sukkot "to be broadened to take on meaning to [all] citizens of an industrial society."

The Council's statement in 1968 that the Arab-Israeli Six Day War was an act of Israeli "aggression" and that the massive Jewish support for Israel in the United States amounted to "hysteria" resulted again in the resignation of several leading members.

The American Council for Judaism continues with the goal of seeking "to advance the universal principles of a Judaism free of nationalism, and the national, civic, cultural, and social integration into American institutions of Americans of Jewish faith."

From the guide to the American Council for Judaism Records., 1937-1968, 1957-1961, (The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Waldman, Morris D. (Morris David), b. 1879. Papers, 1912-1963. American Jewish Archives
creatorOf American Council for Judaism. American Council for Judaism memorandum, 1969 Mar. American Jewish Archives
referencedIn Hocking, William Ernest, 1873-1966. William Ernest Hocking Papers, 1860-1979 Houghton Library
referencedIn Gore Vidal papers, 1850-2020 (inclusive), 1936-2008 (bulk) Houghton Library
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Hand, Learned, 1872-1961. Papers, 1840-1961 Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Fritz Bamberger Papers., 1947-1966. The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
creatorOf American Council for Judaism. Records, 1937-1968 (bulk 1957-1961). American Jewish Archives
referencedIn Lessing J. Rosenwald Papers, 1891-1979, (bulk 1932-1979) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Tarshish, Allan, 1907-1982. Writings regarding Zionism and Judaism / Allan Tarshish. College of Charleston, Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library
referencedIn Adler, Selig, 1909-1984. Jewish Archives of Greater Buffalo. Local Jewish Community Records, 1844-1976, bulk 1920-1969. SUNY at Buffalo, University at Buffalo
creatorOf American Council for Judaism Records., 1937-1968, 1957-1961 The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
referencedIn Solomon Andhil Fineberg Papers., 1939-1974 The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
referencedIn Roscoe Pound papers, 1888-1964 Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Abraham Cronbach Papers, 1902-1965, 1920-1960 The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
referencedIn Morris S. Lazaron papers, 1851-1979 (bulk 1930-1950) The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives
referencedIn Wolsey, Louis, 1877-1953. Papers, 1866-1948 (bulk 1942-1948). American Jewish Archives
creatorOf American Council for Judaism. Records, 1943-1988. Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
referencedIn The Nation, records, 1879-1974 (inclusive), 1920-1955 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Admiral Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss Papers, 1908-1973 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions archives, 1810-1961. Houghton Library
referencedIn Reichert, Irving F. (Irving Frederick), 1895-1968. Irving Reichert papers, 1917-1956. Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum, Rabbi Morris Goldstein Library
creatorOf American Council for Judaism collection, undated, 1943-1991 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism (New York, New York), collection, undated, 1959-1988 American Jewish Historical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. corporateBody
correspondedWith American Friends of the Middle East corporateBody
associatedWith American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism (New York, New York) corporateBody
associatedWith Arab Information Center corporateBody
associatedWith Bamberger, Fritz, 1902-1984 person
correspondedWith Belton, Albert B. person
correspondedWith Berger, Elmer person
associatedWith Berger, Elmer, 1908-1996. person
correspondedWith Cronbach, Abraham person
correspondedWith Fineberg, Solomon Andhil person
associatedWith Gildersleeve, Virginia Crocheron, 1877-1965. person
correspondedWith Hand, Learned, 1872-1961 person
associatedWith Hocking, William Ernest, 1873-1966. person
associatedWith Hutchinson, Paul. person
correspondedWith Lazaron, Morris Samuel person
associatedWith Magnes, Judah Leon, 1877-1948. person
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Nation (New York, N.Y. : 1865). corporateBody
correspondedWith Organization of Arab Students corporateBody
correspondedWith Palestine Arab Refugee corporateBody
correspondedWith Pound, Roscoe, 1870-1964 person
associatedWith Reichert, Irving F. (Irving Frederick), 1895-1968. person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Kermit. person
correspondedWith Rosenwald, Lessing person
associatedWith Rosenwald, Lessing J., 1891-1979. person
associatedWith Sheean, Vincent, 1899-1975. person
correspondedWith Stern, Malcolm H. person
associatedWith Strauss, Lewis L. person
associatedWith Tarshish, Allan, 1907-1982. person
associatedWith Thomas, Norman, 1884-1968. person
associatedWith Thompson, Dorothy. person
associatedWith Vidal, Gore, 1925- person
associatedWith Waldman, Morris D. (Morris David), b. 1879. person
associatedWith Walz, L. Humphrey. person
associatedWith Weller, George, 1900-1973. person
associatedWith White, William Lindsay, 1900-1973. person
associatedWith Wolsey, Louis, 1877-1953. person
associatedWith Zukerman, William. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
United States
Jews--Societies, etc
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism--Political aspects
World War, 1939-1945--Refugees
Zionism and Judaism
Emigration and immigration law

Corporate Body

Active 1937

Active 1968



Ark ID: w6sr47rt

SNAC ID: 32733600