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American Council for Judaism

The American Council for Judaism was the only American Jewish organization ever created to fight Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish state. It was founded in 1942 by a group of Reform rabbis led by Louis Wolsey to protest a resolution of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which supported the establishing of a Jewish Army in Palestine.

At its inception the dissidents consisted of 36 rabbis, some of whom sought to revitalize Reform Judaism and some who sought to oppose Zionism. These rabbis were ideological anti-Zionists, and thus from its inception the Council was the most articulate anti-Zionist spokesman among American Jews. Within a year, the leadership was turned over to laymen and the organization, led by Lessing J. Rosenwald, an heir to the Sears Roebuck fortune, and Rabbi Elmer Berger, became a secular anti-Zionist pressure group. The timing of its founding was inauspicious as Jews throughout Europe were being assaulted because they were a nation – a race in Nazi terminology; as American Jews were just learning of the existence of Nazi death camps in what became known as the Final Solution; and as Zionism, which had been in decline among American Jews, was taking control of the agenda of American Jewry with the Biltmore Program. The Council sought without success to establish an alliance with the non-Zionist American Jewish Committee, but non-Zionism was rather different from anti-Zionism.

The Council opposed the establishment of Israel and remained critical of what it calls the Israel-Zionist domination of American Jewish life. In the formative pre-state years it did accept the Report of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry for the immigration of 100,000 Jews to Palestine, but not a Jewish state. It was allied with the American foreign policy establishment, which also opposed the concept of a Jewish state for other reasons. It primarily used the mass communications media to publicize its program. Its first president was Lessing Rosenwald. The executive vice president and chief spokesman was Rabbi Elmer Berger until his ouster in 1968.

With the birth of the State of Israel, the Council sought to limit Israel's influence on Diaspora Jewry, to promote integration of Jews, and to establish institutions that were resistant to Zionism. Among its activities are a quarterly journal Issues, discontinued from November 1969, a religious education program devoid of Zionist influence, and a philanthropic fund separate from the standard Jewish philanthropies, which it feels are under Zionist control. By the end of 1955 the Council had established ten schools for Judaism teaching the positions of classical Reform Judaism.

The Council described its ideology as follows:

Judaism is a religion of universal values not a nationality… nationality and religion are separate and distinct… Israel is the homeland of its own citizens only, and not of all Jews." Zionism was a philosophy of despair, without faith in the Enlightenment; it advocated the self-segregation of Jews just when they should be seeking integration. Those who belong to the Council reflect an ideological stance closely akin to some of Reform Judaism's 19th-century founders. The Council has occupied an isolated position in Jewish life in America and has often been accused of advocating the Arab anti-Israel viewpoint. It claimed 20,000 members. The Six-Day War of 1967 led several of its most prestigious lay supporters to abandon the Council for a more or less active participation in efforts to aid Israel. It was one thing to oppose Israel; it was quite another to stand aside as Jews were under attack. Most of the Reform congregations organized under its influence have since denied identification with its viewpoint. In the words of Thomas Kolsky: "In the end the Council failed … the organization became neither a focus for the revival of the classical version of Reform Judaism nor an effective force for fighting Zionism and preventing the establishment of a Jewish state."


American Council for Judaism, Formal Policy Statements, 1959–1963 (1963); idem, Information Bulletin 1943–1947; idem, Statement of Views (1943); E. Berger, Jewish Dilemma (1945–19462); idem, Judaism or Jewish Nationalism; the Alternative to Zionism (1957). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: T.A. Kolsky, Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism 1942–1948 (1990).

[Frank N. Sundheim /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.