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This article was published in 1873.
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  • [Association documents] -- June 29, 1873
    Sinai Congregation, Board of Directors Minutes

    To the President and the Trustees of the Sinai Congregation.

    Chicago, Illinois

    June 8, 1873


    I have carefully read the Cincinnati Call for a Congregational Conference for the purpose of establishing a Jewish Theological Institute, and respectfully present to you my humble opinion upon the subject, according to my best judgement and conviction.

    That we need an institution that teaches and authoritatively represents Judaism before the country at large, that promotes Jewish lore and learning, and educates our future rabbis and teachers, surely none doubts or denies, who has the interests of our religion and our people at heart. But about the necessary 2conditions and modes of establishing such an institution, certain differences must naturally prevail, emanating from the different views and conceptions of Judaism held by the various congregations and their leaders.

    Take for instance the orthodox standpoint and you need not set up grand institutes on so large a scale. Provide for the studying youth a learned Talmudist, able to translate the Bible with its Hebrew commentaries, Talmud and Shulchan Aruch, in the English language. Let them be instructed by some professor of English literature and rhetoric, in or outside of the college. Let them graduate as doctors in some college, and have them acquire from any well known rabbi, their diploma as ordained rabbis. What need they more? Why should these candidates not be qualified to teach and to preach Judaism just as well as any Talmud student with his "Morcun" in the old country, where there were no Jewish Academies until recently?

    But things have quite another aspect from the view of Progressive or the so called Reform Judaism. It is certainly not enough for the Reform Rabbi to have 3read the Bible in the original and to have traversed the vast ocean of Talmudical lore. You want him to know the history of the Bible through the various ages, climes and states of culture, the history of Judaism through all its phases and forms. You want him to have clear ideas of the growth and development of religion at large, and of the progressive stages of Judaism especially. You cannot be satisfied in having appointed as an expounder of Reform Judaism a man, who professes the twenty-four Books of the Bible to be the only true revelation of God and "the Talmud to be the only legal and obligatory interpretation of the law," except you belie and betray yourselves and the holy mission of Israel at the present age.

    You will not promote the spiritual welfare of your children, by trusting them to a teacher, who, well versed as he may be in the Hebrew and the Catechism, is wanting in sound principles of treating the miracles, traditions and national laws of the Bible, in accordance with our mature knowledge of the laws of nature and the human mind. Nor will those rabbis truly preserve the Jewish identity, 4who, being the leaders of Reform Congregations, still clinging to the letter of the Bible, forbid to eat unclean meat, or command to believe that God commenced his creations on Sunday, formed sun, moon, and stars on Wednesday, and rested on Saturday. Wherefore alone that day, whether really observed or violated by all, must be kept as the Jewish day of the Lord?

    Judaism is larger than that. It comprehends the Levitical law as well as the religion of humanity taught by the Prophets, the philosophical doctrines of Philo the Greek, of Maimonides and Ben Cabiral and the mystical lore of Isaac Luria, the narrow minded letter worship of Joseph Caro and the critical views of Ibu Ezra. Judaism is an historically progressive religion and must be conceived and taught as such. But the history of Judaism is not written yet. Jewish science is but of yesterday. The man, who created the Jewish Science, is yet among the living. Jewish Theology exists but in hidden sources and in fragmentary outlines. There is no way cleared up, no guide given to aid the traveler through the sandy desert of the Talmud. A few historical and 5biographical books and sketches, written in the German language, are all the help in store for the student. Neither is the Bible literature cultivated yet by Jewish scholars of modern time, as to proffer its ripe fruits to the hungry searcher after truth. You must apply to the works of Christian professors, written in German, for any thorough instruction in the Bible. So is the whole Jewish science, comprehended by very few but a crude, chaotic mass, still awaiting conception and creative minds, capable of moulding and systematizing it. It is therefore not so easy a task, as people commonly think, to train and raise our future rabbis. It requires an immense store of learning to enable a man for this high task. Such men are not at all in abundance in Germany, far less in this country. Indeed the establishment of a Theological Institute would lay claim upon all the rabbis of German university education to cooperate, that a true success might be secured.

    It would certainly require the great metropolitan city as its seat, on account of the best and the most complete colleges and libraries, which needs must be at the students hand.


    Sinai Congregation, Board of Directors, Minutes, June 29, 1873.

    Now considering all this, I personally do not think the time has come already for the erection of such a great edifice. Where is our youth desirous to devote their lives to the holy vocation of Jewish ministry? Our children lack as yet, that holy zeal and enthusiasm, that fervent pride of professing and preclaiming Judaism. Old Judaism they never learned to revere, and modern, enlightened Judaism has not yet taken deep roots in the Jewish hearts and homes. Neither is the Religious school, in its present state the right nursery for our future rabbis. Besides, we want English books, good and appropiate Bible versions, in short, a Jewish American Literature, for the spiritual nourishment of the studying youth. Not even the first foundation can be laid yet for the great educational institution in question. If I were to tell my private opinion. I would say, "Get, for the present, your rabbis an teachers from abroad. Import them from Germany until they are familiarized, more and more, with American language and customs, until they have harmoniously blended and moulded the free inquiring German mind with the practical and easy American form. Concerning the puplis, who desire to follow the vocation of Ministry, send them, whenever you have any, to Germany." They cannot do without a 7thorough knowledge of German. They can never become accomplished scholars, without being able to study the German writings at their disposal. Still, notwithstanding this, I would at any time, gladly welcome the organization of a Theological Institute, if I should anticipate a real success. No doubt, a Jewish College, well managed by competent and trustworthy spiritual leaders would reflect much credit and esteem upon our people, neither would it fail to have the most elevating and ennobling influence upon our internal affairs.

    But to come to the point - is the college, taken in view by the Gincinnati Call, such as to arouse well founded hopes and expectations of such nature? No, Gentlemen. 1. There you see a boundary line drawn between the Western congregations of American Reform Judaism. 2. There you see united five Cincinnati Congregations of very different opinions and shades, making effort to centralize Judaism of the West for some told and untold purposes, of which the foundations of a college is to form but a part. Mark well, the word Reform 8or Progress is not even mentioned in the paper! 3. There you find the whole management of such a great educational institution, laid entirely in the hands of laymen, noblehearted gentlemen indeed, but unlearned and not capable of selecting the right men for such high and important positions as professors and directors of a Jewish College, without the guidance of their spiritual leaders, while even these, whose influence upon them in this project is otherwise sufficiently known, are for some reason passed by in silence.

    Regarding all this I respectfully recommend to you, gentlemen of the board, to decline to take active part in said conference, giving the following reasons: 1. We heartily acknowledge your undertaking to establish a Jewish Theological Institute to be a very noble and praise-worthy one, deserving for itself every credit and support; but we feel surprised to see you call for a conference for the purpose tendered to the congregations of the West and the South and not extended to the East. Such a geographical separation we can by no means approve 9of, nor do we apprehend any benificial result for the cause of Progressive Judaism to derive from it, whereas we willingly offer our best help and effort to cooperate with all the Reform Congregations of the country in establishing a college, whenever time and circumstances seem to be proper and favorable. 2. We are not in favor of placing the organization and administration of an institution of so eminently scientific nature, in the hands of laymen, who, in all their actions, depend upon their spiritual guides, which we expect to see, the name of those respective spiritual leaders put at the head of the undertaking and the extent of their influence made very conspicuous and distinct. 3. We reject the formation of a union of congregations for the purpose of preserving the Jewish identity, or some other purpose of impalpable character, because we cannot help fore-seeing danger and obstacles in the way of Progressive Judaism from such organizations. We most fervently pray for union and concord among all the congregations of the East and the West, yet more we yearn and strive for true enlightenment and progress. The God of Israel is our uniting banner, and the true salvation of the human family - our scope.

    Dr. K. Kohler.

    I C, I A 1 a, I A 2 a, III A