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Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR)

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) is a national organization of Reform rabbis. It was founded in 1889 by Isaac Mayer *Wise, who had earlier established the *Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC, called the Union for Reform Judaism since 2003) and *Hebrew Union College. After the college had ordained 20 rabbis, Wise felt it was time to replace the several regional rabbinic bodies with a national organization. Wise was elected president and headed the CCAR for 11 years until his death in 1900; subsequent presidents served for only two years. The conference thus took its place as the third major arm of the Reform Movement along with the UAHC and the college, and set the standard that each of the movements in American Judaism would have a theological seminary, a congregational body, and a rabbinic organization.

From the beginning the CCAR saw a major part of its role as reflecting and directing the trends and theologies of the growing Reform Movement. From 1890 onward it published a yearbook containing papers delivered at its conventions. The first volume included the resolutions passed by the German rabbinical conferences and synods as well as the proceedings of the 1869 Philadelphia Conference and the 1885 *Pittsburgh Platform. By publishing these documents, the CCAR symbolically established itself as the heir of those gatherings and the standard bearer of their theologies.

As the optimism of the 19th century began to wane in the wake of World War I and the rise of Nazism, the conference felt called upon to issue a new set of "Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism" that would reflect the world's sober new realities which made it imperative for the first time to support a homeland in Palestine. This document, approved in 1937, became known as the Columbus Platform and, under the influence of increased involvement by East European Jews in the previously German Jewish movement, committed Reform Judaism to a greater emphasis on Jewish observance and social justice as well as support of Zionism. With the end of World War II, the revelation of the horrors of the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, and the euphoria of the Six-Day War and the anguish of the Yom Kippur War, the CCAR prepared in 1976 a new declaration of principles on the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the UAHC and the Hebrew Union College, called the Centenary Perspective, which spoke frequently of the need to secure Jewish survival. It also based Reform on the "informed choice" of each individual Jew who, through study, would act autonomously to make individual religious decisions. The 1970s and 1980s also marked the culmination of several decades of widespread CCAR support for farmworkers and the labor movement as a whole, for civil rights (a number of Reform rabbis joined in demonstrations in the South and the North), opposition to the Vietnam War, and active support for the liberation of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews.

Twenty-three years later, in 1999, the CCAR returned to Pittsburgh to issue a fourth Statement of Principles, intended to demonstrate that Reform Jews might now feel called upon to accept mitzvot "both ancient and modern" that "demand renewed attention as the result of" contemporary life. Reflecting a partnership of rabbinical and lay authorship, the 1999 Pittsburgh Principles also demonstrated the many changes in the Conference since 1976: the growth in the number of ordained women, the impact of the resolution to publicly recognize children raised as Jews having only one Jewish parent (the "patrilineal" resolution), and the CCAR's encouragement of HUC-JIR to admit gays and lesbians to the rabbinical school.

The CCAR also provided liturgies for the increasingly diverse movement. In 1895 it published the first edition of the Union Prayer Book, a liturgy primarily in English that opened like an English book. By 1940 the book had been slightly revised twice, but not until 1985 did the Conference publish a completely new liturgy responding to events in the major part of the 20th century. The new volume was called Shaarei Tefila, Gates of Prayer, which included much more Hebrew than the Union Prayer Book and offered a great variety of services uniting the movement's different theologies beneath the same cover. It appeared in both English-opening and Hebrew-opening editions. The Gates series also included a High Holiday prayerbook (Gates of Repentance), a home prayerbook (Gates of the House), and for the first time a set of guides to observance (Gates of Mitzvah for the lifecycle, Gates of the Seasons, and Gates of Shabbat).

In the wake of the influence of women rabbis and Jewish scholars, as well as the increase in mixed-faith families in Reform synagogues who struggled with the increased Hebrew in the new prayerbook, the conference published in 1994 a slim gray "gender-sensitive" revision called Gates of Prayer for Shabbat and Weekdays. In addition to adding the matriarchs to Hebrew prayers and removing specifically masculine terms from English readings the "Gates of Gray" for the first time included transliteration of major prayers on the same page as the Hebrew, rather than relegating them to the back of the book. This interim liturgical embrace of Reform's diverse populations ultimately led to work on another new prayerbook, this time referred to by its Hebrew name, Siddur. The conference completed a methodical study of lay and rabbinic views of worship in the early 1990s, on the basis of which it created a gender-sensitive book called Mishkan T'filah, published in 2005, opening exclusively from the Hebrew side, expressing diversity through alternate readings on the page facing the Hebrew text, rendering every prayer in both Hebrew and transliteration, and featuring extensive notes and commentary. It restored several traditional prayers that the 19thcentury Reformers had excised. The book was piloted widely across North America, reflecting the input not only of Reform rabbis but also of cantors, other Jewish professionals, and laypeople.

The membership of the CCAR increasingly reflected the diversity of the movement as a whole. The conference elected its first woman president, Rabbi Janet Marder, in 2003, and more Reform rabbis served in Hillel foundations, hospital chaplaincies, and Jewish organizational positions. As women swelled the ranks of the rabbinate, concerns about balancing family and profession increased. In 1999 the director of placement began to develop mentoring programs for newly ordained rabbis and in 2000 the conference added a director of rabbinic services to its staff. The CCAR took steps to toughen and strictly enforce its ethics code of rabbinic behavior. As the new century's first decade progressed, the conference looked forward to a prayer life with a new Siddur and to continuing to make a contribution to the welfare of the rabbinate and the world its members serve.


B.W. Korn (ed.), Retrospect and Prospect: Essays in Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Founding of the Central Conference of American Rabbis 1889–1964 (1965); CCARY (1890–2003); M.A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (1988); M.A. Meyer and G. Plaut (eds.), The Reform Judaism Reader: North American Documents (2001).

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