SYNAGOGUE COUNCIL OF AMERICA, THE


SYNAGOGUE COUNCIL OF AMERICA, THE, organization formally founded in 1926 on the basis of a suggestion made in 1924 by Rabbi Abram Simon, then president of the Central Conference of American rabbis, that there should be cooperation among the religious elements of American Jewry. In January 1925, Simon offered a resolution at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations calling for a meeting of congregational and rabbinical bodies to consider questions they had in common. Such a meeting was held in June 1925, and as a result the Synagogue Council of America was formed. A constitution was adopted in 1926 and Simon was elected chairman (a title later changed to president). The six organizations making up the Synagogue Council were the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, and the Rabbinical Council, representing respectively the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbinates; and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform), United Synagogue of America (Conservative), and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, representing the congregational bodies.

The original declaration of principles provided that the Synagogue Council speak with a united voice in furthering their common religious interests without in any way interfering with the autonomy of any of its constituents. The first project of the Synagogue Council was an exhibit, "Jewish Life in America," at the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The Synagogue Council at first tried to grapple with religious problems, but the diversity of views prevented any constructive work. From the 1960s onward the Synagogue Council was active almost exclusively in representing the religious Jewish community to the government and Christian religious bodies. It was one of three sponsors of the National Conference on Religion and Race held in January 1963 in Chicago, a participant in the 1960 White House Conference on Children and Youth and in the 1961 White House Conference on Aging, and a sponsor, with the National Council of Churches and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, of the Interreligious Conference on the Role of Conscience held in May 1967. It also spoke out on social and international issues, voicing the Jewish viewpoint. It also held convocations on matters of concern to the Jewish religious community. As the disappointment in ecumenical dialogue set in, particularly with mainstream Protestant Churches, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War and the perception that the Churches were silent in Israel's hour of need, there was a de-emphasis of the importance of the Synagogue Council and of its actual accomplishments. Other organizations, more narrow in focus and less cumbersome to maneuver, took up the slack and in the aftermath of Vatican II the Catholic-Jewish dialogue intensified but other institutions led the way.

There was always considerable controversy within the Orthodox community as to participation with non-Orthodox rabbis and the issue of the Orthodox granting legitimacy to what some considered non-Orthodox "non-rabbis." Rabbi Soloveitchik had permitted participation – or more accurately, had not forbidden participation – of the rabbis he ordained. When he left public life, even before his death the pressures on the Orthodox participants intensified and many felt more comfortable participating in avowedly secular organizations where similar work was undertaken.

The presidency of the Synagogue Council rotated consecutively among a Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbi. Its role withered, as did its function and even the organization itself. The Council ceased to exist in 1994.

[Sidney L. Regner]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.