Originally published in Masorti Magazine (1993).
Rabbi Jacobs, the first speaker, contrasted the attitude of the United Synagogue at the present day, with that of its past. “If you look into its history”, he said, “the United Synagogue was once us.” In days of yore when such giants of Jewish scholarship as Solomon Schechter had been associated with it, the United Synagogue’s attitude was considerably at variance with the extremism characterising it today. In those days the United Synagogue held a philosophy of Judaism very close to that of Masorti. It exemplified the spirit of the Minhag Anglia, a Jewishly staunch yet tolerant religious outlook happily wedded to British custom and tradition. Schechter, who was born in Romania and studied in Vienna and Berlin, was appointed Reader in Rabbinics at Cambridge University and Professor of Hebrew at University College, London. In 1901 he was invited to America to become president of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and helped to found the United Synagogue of America, institutions which, under his direction, sired the concept of Conservative Judaism whence Masorti derives.
Dr Jacobs pointed out that one of the most celebrated rabbinical graduates of New York’s Theological Seminary was none other than Rabbi Dr Joseph Herman Hertz, who in 1913 succeeded Rabbi Dr Hermann Adler as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire. Although Dr Hertz was strongly opposed to Progressive Judaism in his writings and utterances, the religious stance he adopted, and which was wholeheartedly endorsed by the vast majority of Anglo-Jewish congregations and those overseas under his direction, was greatly at variance with that of the present-day religious establishment. There were those in Hertz’s day who advanced more extremist religious views, including the revered Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky, but Hertz, with due deference to the firm convictions of the learned dayan, refused to allow him to dictate the governance and direction of Anglo-Jewry. While there were those who considered Hertz’s religious outlook to be too moderate, no one dared question his integrity.
The Kalms Report, an in-depth investigation on the running, administration and future development of the United Synagogue, included some complimentary comments on the Masorti Movement, to which, it was stated, many U.S. congregants were being attracted, not least through its broadminded tolerant attitude, as opposed to the narrow extremism with which the U.S. was tinged. This had offended what might be termed the right-wing section of the U.S. which had replied by, as on other occasions, misrepresenting the views and outlook of Masorti. The Masorti Movement and its leadership were accused of being opposed to the concept of “Torah min Hashamayim” but, in fact, the dispute was not about the concept itself but about the word “min” (from).
Dr Jacobs upbraided the United Synagogue establishment for questioning Masorti marriages and conversions, which, he pointed out, were perfectly kosher and could not be faulted even in the most stringent halachic interpretation. The U.S. attitude was totally unreasonable, caused sorrow and hardship and was an unwelcome and divisive aspect in communal life. The Masorti Movement, he said, should make every effort to counter United Synagogue propaganda in this field and demonstrate its determination to adhere to its principles. Masorti was winning an increasing appeal as a voice of reason, of moderation and of understanding in opposition to extremism and religious fundamentalism.