American Council for Judaism

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The American Council for Judaism (ACJ) is an organization of American Jews committed to the proposition that Jews are not a nationality but merely a religious group, adhering to the original stated principles of Reform Judaism, as articulated in the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform.[1][2] In particular, it is notable for its historical opposition to Zionism. Although it has since moderated its stance on the issue, it still advocates that American Jews distance themselves from Israel politically, and does not view Israel as a universal Jewish homeland. The ACJ has also championed women's rights, including the right for women to serve as rabbis, and has supported Reform Jewish congregations and contributed to the publication of new editions of prayer books for religious services predominately in the English language for Jews in English-speaking countries.[3]

Background and formation[edit]

The rabbis of Reform Judaism had opposed Zionism prior to World War I, supporting freedom, democracy and equal rights for Jews in the countries where they lived.[4] The influential American Jewish Committee was also anti-Zionist until 1918, when it shifted to a non-Zionist platform until the 1967 Six Day War.[5] The Central Conference of American Rabbis of the Reform movement declared itself officially neutral on Zionism in 1937.

In 1942, split within the Reform movement occurred due to the passage of a resolution by some rabbis endorsing the raising of a "Jewish Army" in Palestine to fight alongside the Allies of World War II. The American and British general staffs opposed the placing Jews in segregated armed forces.[6] The founders of the American Council for Judaism regarded the potential segregation of Jews to be a highly regressive and harmful measure.

The ACJ was founded in June 1942 by a group of leading Reform rabbis including six former presidents of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the president of the Hebrew Union College, as well as laymen, who opposed the creation of a religiously segregated Jewish Army to fight alongside the Allies and the new political direction of some in their movement, including, but not limited to, on the issue of Zionism as redefined by the Biltmore Program in May 1942.[7] The leading rabbis included Louis Wolsey, Morris Lazaron, Abraham Cronbach, David Philipson, and Henry Cohen but their most vocal representative for a time became Elmer Berger, who became the Council's Executive Director.

Following World War II, with the question of Palestine's future being considered, the AJC came out in support of a joint Jewish-Arab state rather than a Jewish state in Palestine, and opposed dispossessing the Arabs who were then living in Palestine.[8] The presidency of the ACJ was accepted by the well-known philanthropist Lessing J. Rosenwald, who took the lead in urging the creation of a unitary democratic state in Mandatory Palestine in American policy-making circles. Rosenwald testified before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946, urged the creation of a unitary Jewish-Arab state in Palestine, and allowing Jewish immigration to Palestine to continue only upon "renunciation of the claim that Jews possess unlimited national right to the land, and that the country shall take the form of a racial or theocratic state," and said that the United States and other UN member states should allow more Jewish immigration to solve the European-Jewish refugee problem.[9] It later endorsed the Committee of Inquiry's recommendations, including that Palestine be become neither a Jewish or Arab state and the admittance of 100,000 Jewish refugees into Palestine.[10]

During the Jewish insurgency in Palestine, a violent campaign against the British by Jewish underground groups in Palestine (the Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi), the AJC opposed what it viewed as Jewish terrorism. Following the King David Hotel bombing, it issued a statement calling for American Jews to "repudiate the perpetrators of those outrages and those leaders of Jews, in and out of Palestine, whose incitement is equally responsible." In a statement, Lessing Rosenwald called for the American Jewish community to condition any further assistance to the Yishuv (Palestinian Jewry) on the end of violence.[11] It also opposed the Haganah's Aliyah Bet program, which attempted to bring Jewish refugees into Palestine illegally past a British blockade. Following a statement by the Vice-President of the Zionist Organization of America that American Jews were prepared to spend millions to finance illegal immigration to Palestine, Rosenwald repudiated him, calling Aliyah Bet a "shocking disregard for law and order" and stating "lawlessness even in the name of mercy cannot be tolerated."[12] In the final year before the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Council became very close to San Francisco born rabbi Judah Magnes, humanitarian and founder of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the leading Palestinian-Jewish advocate for a binational state, who was forced to return to the United States.

Though Louis Wolsey resigned from the Council after the founding of the State of Israel, the ACJ persevered, believing that its primary foe was the political influence of Zionism upon American Judaism. In addition to supporting a network of religious schools committed to Classical Reform Judaism, the Council fought American-Jewish fundraising for Israel and agitated against the merging of Zionist fund-raising organizations with local Jewish community boards, provided financial aid to Jews emigrating from Israel, and enjoyed friendly relations with the Eisenhower State Department under John Foster Dulles. The ACJ also vocally supported the efforts of William Fulbright to have the lobbyists for Israel in the United States legally registered as foreign agents. In 1948, the year Israel was founded, the AJC had 14,000 members.[13][14][15] This number increased, and in the 1950s the Council had a membership of up to 20,000.

Support for the American Council for Judaism came primarily from Jews of British, Dutch, French and German descent who were historically attached to Classical Reform Judaism, but also from many Jewish socialists who opposed Zionism, and many more of whom who were uncomfortable with the Jewish religion coalesced around William Zukerman and his Jewish Newsletter. Jewish intellectuals who at one time or another passed through the Council included David Riesman, Hans Kohn, Erich Fromm, Hannah Arendt, Will Herberg, Morrie Ryskind, Frank Chodorov, and Murray Rothbard. Among the notable gentile friends of the Council were Dorothy Thompson, Norman Thomas, Freda Utley, Arnold J. Toynbee, and Dwight MacDonald. The ACJ was particularly influential in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta and Dallas.[16][17]

Later activities[edit]

The ACJ declined in political activity for a while following the Six-Day War in 1967 (when the American Jewish community was swept up by overwhelming support for Israel), and moderates within the Council forced Elmer Berger to resign the following year for declaring that Israel had been the primary aggressor in the war. The council continued to support progressive Judaism, but its views came into conflict with the general views of American Jewry, and was "consigned to irrelevancy." In 2010, its mailing list was only a few thousand.[18]

The ACJ has moderated its stance on Israel and Zionism over time. Although it had originally championed a unitary state in Palestine, the ACJ has accepted the state of Israel and supports its function as a refuge for Jews, but advocates equal rights and religious freedom for all people living there.[19] According to its statement of principles, "the State of Israel has significance for the Jewish experience. As a refuge for many Jews who have suffered persecution and oppression in other places, Israel certainly has meaning for us. However, that relationship is a spiritual, historical, and humanitarian one - it is not a political tie. As American Jews, we share the hope for the security and well being of the State of Israel, living in peace and justice with its neighbors".[20][21] Allan C. Brownfeld, the editor of the AJC's magazine, said that "I think we represent a silent majority. We are Americans by nationality and Jews by religion. And while we wish Israel well, we don’t view it as our homeland."[18]

The organization publishes a magazine called Issues, which is published in print and online.


  • Kolsky, Thomas Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism, 1942-1948 Temple University Press, 1992.
  • Ross, Jack. Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger & American Jewishj Anti-Zionism
  1. ^ Kolsky, Thomas A., Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism 1942-1948 (Temple University Press 1990) p. 132
  2. ^ "The Reform Movement in North America is larger than the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements combined….With Sen. Lieberman’s retirement, every Jewish member of the Senate and House is a Reform or Conservative Jew…." URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs speaking at the Knesset, November 2013 "It’s Time for a New Israel-Diaspora Conversation," Reform Judaism Online accessed 2/25/15
  3. ^ These include The Union Prayer Book and the new edition of The New Union Haggadah. The Union Prayer Book: Sinai edition revised (Central Conference of American Rabbis 2012) and Berman, Howard and Zeidman, Benjamin, The New Union Haggadah: Revised Edition (Central Conference of American Rabbis 2014)
  4. ^ Kolsky, Thomas A., Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism 1942-1948, (Temple University Press 1990) p. 30
  5. ^ Kolsky, Thomas A., Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism 1942-1948, (Temple University Press 1990) p. 30
  6. ^ Kolsky, Thomas A., Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism 1942-1948, (Temple University Press 1990) p. 43
  7. ^ Kolsky, Thomas A., Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism 1942-1948 (Temple University Press 1990) p. 42-49
  8. ^ Kolsky, Thomas A., Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism 1942-1948 (Temple University Press 1990) pp. 136-38
  9. ^ U.S. Asked to Admit Displaced Jews on Immigration Quotas Not Used During the War
  10. ^ American Council for Judaism Submits Its Views on Palestine Report to State Department
  11. ^ American Council for Judaism Calls on U.S. Jews to Repudiate Palestine Terrorism
  12. ^ “illegal” Immigration to Palestine Must Not Be Encouraged. Council for Judaism Says
  13. ^ New York Times- obituary for Rabbi Elmer Berger "A Foe of Zionism as well as Israel"[1]
  14. ^ Raising of Funds for Israel in U.S. Attacked by Council for Judaism
  15. ^ Council for Judaism Announces Aid for Jews Leaving Israel
  16. ^ San Francisco Jewish Elite: America's Leading Anti-Zionists
  17. ^ Kolsky, Thomas A., Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism 1942-1948 (Temple University Press 1990) p. 82-84
  18. ^ a b On Religion - A Resurgence for American Jews Who Reject Zionism - The New York Times
  19. ^ Kolsky, Thomas A., Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism 1942-1948 (Temple University Press 1990) p. 93
  20. ^
  21. ^

External links and further reading[edit]