TABLE OF CONTENTS
Manuscript Collection No. 17
In 1942, at its annual conference held that year in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) passed a pro-Zionist resolution supporting the formation of a Jewish army in Palestine. This resolution nullified a 1935 CCAR agreement which stated that the CCAR would remain neutral on the Zionist issue. Immediately after the 1942 conference, several non-Zionist rabbis met to discuss their displeasure with the resolution.
As a result of this meeting, sixteen CCAR rabbis, led by men such as Louis Wolsey, William Fineshriber, and Morris Lazaron, addressed letters to CCAR members concerning the formation of a Jewish "anti-nationalist" organization. Although various attempts were made to appease the "anti-nationalists" (on the grounds that they would split the CCAR as well as the American Jewish community) they remained adamant and held a meeting in early June.
At this meeting a "Statement of Principles" was formulated. In essence, the "Principles" declared that the non-Zionists supported Palestine and Palestinian rehabilitation but, in light of their universalistic interpretation of Jewish history and destiny, and also their concern for the welfare and status of the Jewish people living in other parts of the world, they could not "subscribe to or support the political emphasis now paramount in the Zionist program." Futhermore, they could not help but believe "that Jewish nationalism tends to confuse our fellowmen about our place and function in society and diverts our own attention from our historic role to live as a religious community wherever we may dwell."
In August of that year, this "Statement," signed by 90 Reform rabbis and lay leaders, was released to the press. By the end of 1942, this group of "anti-nationalists" had chosen a name for itself: the American Council for Judaism ( ACJ). They adopted a constitution and named Elmer Berger, a rabbi from Flint, Michigan, as executive director. On March 19, 1943 the American Council for Judaism was incorporated in the state of New York and, by the end of the year, a slate of officers was selected. As president, the Council chose Lessing Rosenwald; as vice-presidents, Louis Binstock, Fred F. Florence, Ralph W. Mack, Irving Reichert and Louis Wolsey; and as treasurer, D. Hays Solis-Cohen.
Because the Council felt it represented the views of the majority of American Jews, it began its anti-Zionist campaign with a massive membership drive. By 1946, the ACJ had numerous local chapters and had established regional offices in Richmond, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco.
Throughout its existence the Council continued its membership solicitations while also maintaining a vigorous publicity campaign through press releases and the publication of various articles, pamphlets, and journals. To demonstrate that the American Zionists did not reflect the opinions of all American Jews, the ACJ addressed letters to various government officials, expressing their opposition to the establishment of Palestine or any other independent locality as a Jewish state. Instead, the ACJ advocated a policy of rehabilitating European Jewry through a restoration of civil, political, and economic security in those nations containing a Jewish population.
The ACJ was initially created to represent a religious opposition to political Zionism. But with the appointment of Sidney Wallach, a layman, as public relations representative and the election of several lay officers, the religious aspects were de-emphasized. Indeed, some of the rabbinic pioneers of the idea to create a non-Zionist organization never joined the ACJ, claiming the Council represented anti-Zionism rather than pro-Judaism. With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and the ACJ's announced intent to continue its anti-Zionist program, several prominent Reform rabbis, among them ACJ founder Louis Wolsey, resigned from the Council.
After 1948, through press releases and other commentary, the Council continued its opposition to the establishment of Israel, but it also expanded its program to include non-political aspects of its opposition to Zionism. In the early 1950s the ACJ provided aid to Christian and Muslim refugees from Palestine. In 1955, the Philanthropic Fund of the American Council for Judaism was established to provide assistance to Jews within their own countries and to aid Jewish and non-Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Arab countries.
In 1952, the Council opened Sunday schools, based on a program of universal Judaism, in Milwaukee, Westchester (New York), New York City, and Chicago. By 1954 the Council was progressing with a multi-faceted program of creating religious tests free of nationalist bias, conducting annual teachers' institutes and distributing a serial titled Education in Judaism.
In 1955, Elmer Berger advocated the complete assimilation of Jews into American life through a program which called for the establishment of Sunday as the official Jewish day of worship, the designing of a new menorah which "would reflect the appreciation of American Jews of the freedom of life in the United States," and the interpretation of the holiday of Sukkot "to be broadened to take on meaning to [all] citizens of an industrial society."
The Council's statement in 1968 that the Arab-Israeli Six Day War was an act of Israeli "aggression" and that the massive Jewish support for Israel in the United States amounted to "hysteria" resulted again in the resignation of several leading members.
The American Council for Judaism continues with the goal of seeking "to advance the universal principles of a Judaism free of nationalism, and the national, civic, cultural, and social integration into American institutions of Americans of Jewish faith."
This collection of American Council for Judaism records, coming as it does from disparate sources and donors, is not an organic collection -- rather it is an amalgam of material gathered by persons involved in the administration and work of the ACJ. As a result, there are gaps in the records and the collection does not have a consistent flow as it might if it came from a clear and single provenance.
That said, these records are an important source of primary materials, pertaining not only to the work and founding of the ACJ, but to a movement and philosophy of thought that exerted much influence in American Reform Judaism during the early to mid-20th century. Being a mixture of materials from many sources this collection contains a number of particular, yet diverse, viewpoints on the thought and perspective of the ACJ and its times, which researchers should find useful.
This collection is best utilized in conjunction with the papers and records of other contemporary players in this scene - Zionist and anti-Zionist - some of which are listed in the related materials section of this finding aid.
The American Jewish Archives contains the papers of many of the founders and early leaders of the ACJ. These collections - such as the papers of Morris Lazaron, Louis Wolsey, and Elmer Berger - contain important materials that must be consulted for a complete understanding of the organization and its purpose. The AJA also has an extensive nearprint (i.e., printed matter) collection that contains many of the ACJ's publications, together with newsclippings and commentaries on the ACJ written from a variety of perspectives.
For further information on the American Council for Judaism see: Jews Against Zionism: the American Council for Judaism, 1942-1948 by Thomas A. Kolsky. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.
This collection is arranged in three (3) series:
Terms of Access and Use
The American Council for Judaism Records are open to all users. The original manuscript collection is available in the Barrows-Loebelson Reading Room of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.
Property and Literary Rights
Alfred Belton, Irwin Rhodes, Malcolm Stern, Mark Glickman, Stephen Naman, and Marcus Herrmann, by the act of donating the American Council for Judaism Records to the American Jewish Archives, assigned all property rights to the American Jewish Archives. Literary rights are retained by the American Council for Judaism. Literary rights may also be retained by specific creators of materials.
Questions concerning rights should be addressed to the Executive Director of the American Jewish Archives. For more information see the American Jewish Archives copyright information webpage.
This is a select list. Please see the main catalog of the American Jewish Archives for a complete listing of references to the American Council for Judaism.
Photographs and nearprint materials received with this collection have been removed and placed in the American Jewish Archives picture collection and nearprint collection, under the heading of American Council for Judaism.
Footnotes and bibliographic references should refer to the American Council for Judaism Records and the American Jewish Archives. A suggestion for at least the first citation is as follows:
[Description], [Date], Box #, Folder #. MS-17. American Council for Judaism Records. American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio.
The American Council for Judaism records were presented to the American Jewish Archives by four different sources:
In the 1960s, Albert B. Belton, through the efforts of Alfred Gottschalk, donated his files to the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1974 these files were transferred to the American Jewish Archives, again through the efforts of Alfred Gottschalk. These files form the nucleus of the collection.
Mrs. Rhodes, of Cincinnati, Ohio, donated one box of material to the American Jewish Archives. This material, consisting of form letters and nearprint, has been integrated into the rest of the collection.
Malcolm H. Stern, of New York, N.Y., donated one box of correspondence, ACJ records, and nearprint. His personal correspondence has been left as a separate file (Series A. subseries 2), while the nearprint and ACJ records were integrated into the rest of the collection.
Stephen Naman, President of the American Council for Judaism, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., donated seven boxes of records in June 2009.
Marcus Herrmann, of Montréal, Québec, donated three boxes of nearprint in August 2009.
Processed by M. Carolyn Dellenbach, July, 1977.
Additional processing by Elisa Ho, October 2011. Arrangement and description funded in part by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the AJA's online catalog.
Persons and Families
Belton, Albert B. -- Correspondence
Berger, Elmer, 1908-1996
Stern, Malcolm H., 1915-1994 -- Correspondence
American Council for Judaism
United States. National Historical Publications and Records Commission