Erev Shavuot—Synagogue, Observance Problems
Erev Shavuot—In the week just preceding the Feast of Weeks
and the festival of the Giving of the Law on Sinai—it may help guide
congregants toward More traditional approaches to Jewish observances
if we view existing practices in the light of need as against indifference.
We would be unfair if we said there was total unconcern; else,
two of the leading civic-protective Jewish movements would not have
devoted time and energy to a discussion of the status of the synagogue.
American Jewish Congress and American Jewish Committee dis-
cussions of the issue introduce a new aspect in this area, and there
is a conflict in the two views that is worth noting.
AJCongress publicizes a call made by Rabbi Max J. Routtenberg
of Rockville Center, N.Y., for an end to "giant-sized synagogues that
combine the shul and the pool and synagogues that function almost
exclusively as business enterprises." This call was sounded during a
symposium on "The American Synagogue—Has It a Future?" In his
declaration Rabbi Routtenberg asked the American Jewish community
to "emancipate itself from the machinery of the synagogue as it is
presently constituted. Among his suggestions was one for the
development of "small synagogues with maximum membership of 150-
200 families which would be able to concentrate on the genuine func-
tions of the synagogue—prayer, study, religious experience, education,
the family and its spiritual needs and the celebration of events in
the yearly Jewish calendar." He added:
"We have not been courageous enough for radical, revolutionary
change in the structure of the synagogue. The synagogue as an all-
inclusive center must go, for it is no longer meeting the heeds of the
congregants. Perhaps there should be a return to communal centers
of social activity, but these could not be in the synagogue itself. Organ-
izational and administrative power residing in a board of directors
which rarely has central religious matters on its agenda must stop,
if the synagogue is to continue in America. The synagogue as a busi-
ness enterprise is a corrupting and paralyzing influence. The his-
torical synagogue will survive, as it has through the ages, but the
American synagogue, currently in a state of spiritual insolvency, will
not survive in its present structure."
On the other hand, in a report by the American Jewish Com-
mittee's Task Force on the Future of the Jewish Community, Louis
Stern stated that "American Jews are turning to smaller synagogues
in search of the warmer, more personal relations and the close con-
tact with the rabbi that they do not generally find in larger con-
If the latter were true, then the devastating report to the AJCon-
gress would have been unnecessary. There is reason to believe that
the Stern report is wishful thinking and that the emergence of the
smaller synagogue continues to be a myth, the exceptional cases
being those wherein both the high costs of personnel—including rabbis'
salaries—and prohibitive costs of financing large structural projects
are eliminated. It is visionary. however, to think of small synagogues in
terms of their being operated by laymen, because volunteers in com-
munal work, other than in seasonal fund-raising, are few in number.
The professional social worker has taken over, and that function, too,
involves large-scale synagogue and institutional operations.
Shavuot should be a good time for those concerned with the prob-
lem—if it really is a problem that creates concern—to review the
issues involved and to establish whether the synagogue, as the Stern
report to AJCongress indicated, "has now become as much an ethnic
as a 'religious institution," and what, this really means.
The problem of observance always remains a challenge. There
is, for instance, the matter of sanctity in the community. We have
two recollections of laymen's and rabbinic reactions to observances.
The late Julian H. Krolik for many years felt deeply hurt over the
actions of a social group that made it a practice to sponsor a profit-
making dance at the end of the Day of Atonement and called it the
Yom Kippur Ball. That practice finally terminated. Then there was
the constant protest from the late Itabbi ..Benedict Glazer against the
practice by some groups of holding socials on Friday nights. It was
his contention that the Sabbath Eve should be respected, that it
should be reserved for the home and the synagogue service. Philip
Klutznick, as international president of Bnai Brith, was called upon
to endorse a protest against local chapters who had arranged for
lodge banquets on Shavuot night.
In some quarters we have tried to protect ourselves by providing
schools and other institutions with our calendars to assure that impor-
tant exams are not set for Jewish festivals when we expect our children
to join us for synagogue services. It would be a good idea to provide
country clubs and other Jewish media with Jewish calendars so that
Jews, too, should be alerted towards respecting holiday dates. But the
way to start is by respecting the Sabbath.
Yet these practices continue and even when a country club is
involved, the holding of public functions either on Sabbath Eve or on
Jewish festivals should not be encouraged. This, of course, is a
responsibility for individuals who can not be controlled, and country
clubs are private institutions. But if country clubs have risen to such
heights as barring from membership those who will not participate in
the community's philanthropic efforts, why can't they also adopt a
policy of respect for religious faith — especially if Louis Stern proves
correct in his contention that "the synagogue has become as much an
ethnic as a religious institution." In that case, the religious institution
should exert an influence upon communal actions—as long as it is
on the basis of adherence to tradition and accepted Jewish values.
It is because the synagogue is vital to our existence, and because
excessive building projects are draining its funds; and because the
sound leadership of the rabbinate must not be ignored, that a dis-
cussion of challenging issues becomes necessary, especially on Shavuot,
when we speak of The Law—and when so many are about to start
vacationing from synagogue attendance. These are not issues for rabbis
alone, and wouldn't it be pleasant to have religious problems solved
before Yom Kippur !
Reconstructionist View on 'Revolt of Youth'
Shavuot can not be passed up as an inspiration for consideration
of our synagogue problems without likening the issues with youth and
their "revolt." Reconstructionist magazine this week commented edi-
torially on "The 'Jewish Revolution,'" as it titled the item, stating:
It is good to read what some of the rabbis are saying
about the radical young. A well known rabbi in the middle
2—Friday, May 21, 1971
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
. Shavuot Raises
Questions About Puzzling Jewish Inconsistencies
vis-a-vis the Synagogue . . . Israel's Will to Live
Sanctity in the Country Club .
World's Perils and Israel's Confrontations
There is no end to peril and confrontation in a world at war in which power struggles
are multi-fashioned. An Egyptian dictator shuffles his cabinet, keeps the dismissed under
house arrest. An Israeli diplomat is kidnaped by terrorists who have scores to settle with
the Turkish government. An American statesman makes a tour of the Middle East and
returns with what appears to be a repetitive form of secret diplomacy.
On the sidelines is little Israel, either remotely or directly affected by the Egyptian
cabinet shuffle: it all depends on whether Sadat's army aims at another battle with Israel.
If the Egyptian army sees the futility of another war with Israel, we may have peace in
that area. If Egypt's army chiefs are realistic, there is a chance for an endless cease fire
which may lead to peace for the entire area.
Does it all depend upon the United States and upon a plan promulgated by Secretary
of State William Rogers? This has an element of nonsense. It would make sense if the
Middle East situation were negotiable. But when there is a continuing threat to Israel's
existence there must first be an abandonment of threats to destroy Israel.
There is this to be said for Sadat: unlike !Nasser he has not been speaking unceasingly
of plans to destroy Israel. That's why the hope is entertained that he may desire peace and
have a chance to attain it by training his people to hope for good days, when it no longer will
be necessary for them to have blackouts and fear that their cities will be destroyed.
There will be endless speculation about Rogers, his plan, his assurances to Israel
while demanding withdrawals. But Israel stands firm: what else can a people do when the
plan advanced so far is for Israel to go just enough of a distance to be subject to annihilation?
So—every comment, all replies to moot questions -regarding Israel's attitudes, is
rooted in just one factor: Israel will not submit to another Hitler, Pobedonostzev, Torque-
mada, Stalin or the threats, of Nasser and Arafat.
Even in the matter of a kidnaping, which may really turn out to be an internal Turkish
mattermatter—Israel stands firm, defying threats and blackmail, because the will to live
teaches the people one thing: there can be no yielding to holocaust threats no matter whence
they come or by whom uttered.
Pragmatism Distinguishes Elon's `The Israelis'
What is the character of the peo-
ple that is battling daily for its
very life? Who are those of the
present generation and how do they
match their parents who estab-
lished the foundation for a re-
A native Israeli, Amos Elon, who
has served as correspondent for
Haaretz in several capitals includ-
ing Washington, analyzes condi-
tions in a challenging fashion in
one of the best books about Israel
and Israelis. In "The Israelis—
Fathers and Sons," published by
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, the
able journalist pulls no punches.
He deals with people and with is-
sues realistically. He defines and
portrays events in all their terrify-
ing realities, and what he writes
may well serve as warning and
guide for action.
The reason his work serves as
a guide is because he treats with
brutal frankness the state of
affairs relating to the position of
the Arabs. He does not hesitate
to point out that there had been
a minimum' of effort in early
days of the Jewish return to Is-
rael under Zionist auspices to get
together with the Arabs. Yet it
becomes apparent that it is not
easy to sway Arabs, even the
fellahin who suffered from the
effendis, when the nationalistic
One must view Elon as a prag-
matist and not as a defeatist. It is
by recognizing the realities of a
situation, that those who are faced
with challenges might meet them.
There are interesting concluding,
affirmations regarding the condi-
tions that afflict Israel in which
"Everything is still fluid. The
1967 war, as it fused in some
hearts the intransigence of
aroused nationalism with the
archaisms of an ancient religious
faith, so it produced powerful
antidotes within a nation which
has come of age, in a spreading
re-evaluation of values. The be-
lief in progress which Henry
Adams, speaking of America,
called a doubtful and even im-
probable principle is still very
much alive among Israelis; it
remains the founders' main be-
quest to the young. Had Israel
been established in quieter times,
had it been able to develop more
slowly in the calm and sunny
peace of its green plains and
rugged mountains, it is possible
its people might sooner have
come to share with, other, hap-
pier nations the traditions of
civility and the same subdued
tone, instead of assuming the
tense, exclamatory voice it now
strains so often.
"A harassed people has come
into its own under convulsive
circumstances that had not been
imagined by anyone. What was
planned as an orderly exodus
came as a desperate escape. A
people who strove above all to
flee their historic fate—utter de-
pendence upon the shifting moods
of tolerance—were denied their
aim. Instead of calm and rest
there is unending and unnerving
conflict. Instead of peace there
is war with no end in sight.
"Little wonder it is, then, that
issues which might have been
more satisfactorily resolved in
calmer times still loom in the
country's future like storm clouds
which can bring either spring
showers or late winter hail. In
their fight for physical survival,
the Israelis' determination to
persevere seems undiminished.
But as they come of age as a
nation they are torn by conflict-
ing forces, contending for their
west was quoted, recently, predicting that the youth
"will make of Judaism a mighty force to fulfill its mission
of being a 'light unto the people.' " We would welcome a
qualifying phrase or two, instead of the blanket approval
implied in the encomia rendered the revolutionaries.
However, what we miss most in his and others' haskamot
of the prophetic new generation is a word of repentance.
How helpful it would be if the rabbis and the congrega-
tions which built multi-million dollar edifices, and sold
out to the caterers, who condoned the vulgarity and
ostentation, the inch-deep-and-mile-wide Jewish educa-
tion, the rhetoric without the substance of social justice—
which turned the youth off—would say just once ashamnu!
Neither rabbi nor layman who is involved in synagogue administra-
tion need squirm. There are faults somewhere, and perhaps neither
rabbi nor synagogue president nor caterer is to be stigmatized. But
the issue can not be stifled. Youth is articulate as well as seeking a
role in the community. None can deny them a voice and we would be
inviting bankruptcy if we denied them a place in our establishments.
Add an al het to the ashamnu and let's find solutions in dignity—and
with full respect for our traditions.
character as a people."
As a trained newspaperman Elon
knows that only by facing issues
head on can a people survive and
that it would be wrong to mislead.
That's the great merit in his book:
he confronts and is frank. Yet he
is not hopeless, because he con-
cludes with the admonition from
the Talmud, "If I am not for my-
self, who will be for me"; by
quoting the song of the early pio-
neers, "We came to build the land
and to be rebuilt by it," and by
reminding the readers' of the Theo-
dor Herzl saying: "If you will it,
it is no fairy tale."
The value in "The Israelis—
Founders and Sons" lies in some
measure in the contrasts drawn
between the early settlers and
their sons and daughters who
now are in the responsible roles
of Israel's builders, defenders,
creators of new values. In this
area Elon is especially effective.
Elon did not content himself
with analyses of the Israel situa-
tion and with reviews of Zionist
history. He also dealt with recent
Jewish history, with the Haskala
period which inspired the dreams
that led to realities. On that score
this reviewer wishes he had limit-
ed his labors. The Haskala and the
pre-Herzlian themes are too ex
tensive and much more involved. ;
than they are treated by Elon. Yet,
in introductory fashion, what he
did here also serves a good pur-
pose as historical background.
Naturally, in view of his summa-
tion of developments that preceded
the rebirth of Israel, Elon dealt
also with the Holocaust. The ques-
tion arises anew whether Jews re-
sisted sufficiently. Elon explains
attitudes, in his evaluation of the
impact of Zionist ideology,, -that
"young Jews have come to believe
wholeheartedly that the singling
out of Jews for extermination was
possible only because, of all peo-
ples, only the Jews had no country
of their own and thus lacked the
minimum means of resistance."
There is no doubt about it, as
Elon indicates: "Living dangerous-
ly—at war or for periods under
interminable tension—has become
a way of life, an apparent routine,
a capricious but regular standard,
almost a canon of existence. The
average native-born Israeli has
known nothing else his entire life."
It is from such a point of, view
that the Elon story is told.
Elon draws upon legend, anec-
dote, history's unique facts relat-
ing to Jews, and out of it emerges
a fascinating tale about Israel and
Israelis. His "The Israelis" of all
ages is a: masterful book. ; ; --P.S.