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Rabbinical Conferences

The idea of a *synod to provide authoritative guidance and meet the current needs of Jews in the era of *Emancipation led to the holding of rabbinical conferences in Germany in the mid-19th century. A convention was called by Abraham *Geiger in Wiesbaden in 1837 to discuss his proposals for *Reform, but had no practical results. Subsequently a conference initiated by Ludwig *Philippson met in Brunswick in 1844, and was attended by 25 Reform rabbis, including Geiger and Samuel *Holdheim. However, no substantial resolutions were passed, and the conference was attacked by all sectors: the Orthodox protested against the rejection of Jewish tradition, Philippson regretted the theorizing instead of practical solutions, and Zacharias *Frankel criticized the discussions and results. Following the conference 116 Orthodox rabbis declared that nobody could "abrogate the least of the religious laws." In 1845, 31 rabbis, this time including Frankel, met at Frankfurt on the Main. As laid down in a memorandum delivered to the Frankfurt conference by three representatives of the Reform Association of Berlin, their stated purpose was to strengthen Judaism by rescuing it from legalistic stagnation and adapting it to modern needs, thus making it attractive to the new generation. When Frankel was overruled on the retention of Hebrew prayers, he withdrew. Heinrich *Graetz expressed a similar view. Other proposed reforms referred to the messianic portions of the prayers, the supplication for the restoration of sacrifices, the triennial cycle of Torah readings, and the use of the organ in the synagogue. A third conference took place in 1846 at Breslau, attended by 25 rabbis only. While Holdheim suggested that the Sabbath should be transferred to the civil day of rest, the majority was satisfied with minor reform in Sabbath observance, and the abolition of the second day of holidays and many mourning customs. Several resolutions dealt with the supervision of circumcision from the hygienic aspect. A number of radical reformers, dissatisfied with the conservative line taken by the conference, demanded that laymen should participate in future meetings.

In 1868 24 rabbis met in Kassel to prepare such a "synod" and to decide on a number of liturgical reforms. The "synod" assembling at Leipzig in 1869 consisted of 49 lay and 34 rabbinical delegates from 60 communities. Presided over by Moritz *Lazarus, it dealt with Jewish education, liturgical reforms, and other questions. The Orthodox and Frankel's sympathizers were not represented. Two years later, the "synod" of Augsburg was attended by representatives from only 30 communities. Its resolutions dealt with marriage, ḥaliẓah, and other subjects, but the stand taken on the Sabbath was more conservative than before. Again, 133 Orthodox rabbis published a strong protest, asserting that the participants were unfit to hold religious office. Neither "synod" came up to the expectations of its own promoters, and no further meeting of this kind was convened in Germany.


D. Philipson, Reform Movement in Judaism (19312, repr. 1967), 140–224; W.G. Plaut, Rise of Reform Judaism (1963).

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