Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Remembering A Lifetime of Advancing Prophetic Judaism - Free of Nationalism And Politicization

Allan C. Brownfeld
June 2020

Several years ago, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a book designed for  
grandfathers to tell the story of their life. I put off answering the many  
questions for some time but, with help of my daughter, have finally turned  
my attention to it. I hope that in future years my five grandchildren—-who  
range in age —from almost two to thirteen years—-will find it useful. It has  
caused me to reflect on what lessons might be learned.  
Several months ago, I wrote a column with some reflections on my early  
years. My memory goes back to World War II when, as a small child I had an  
army uniform which I wore in pictures with my uncles who were in real  
uniforms. One of them fought in the Battle of the Bulge. I remember when the  
war ended. We had a house at the beach, and I marched in a parade with other  
children. On the day Franklin Roosevelt died, we heard news reports on the  
radio in our living room. My mother said, “This is important. You will  
remember this.” And I have.  
In that column I recalled that my friends as a child represented many  
backgrounds and religions. Our local newsstand in New York featured  
newspapers in many languages, Il Progresso in Italian, The Forward in  
Yiddish, Aufbau in German, and the Irish Echo in Gaelic. Our neighbors came  
from many places—-Poland, Germany, Greece and a variety of other European  
countries. Everyone was white.  
Legal Segregation  
I did not encounter legal segregation until I went to the College of William  
and Mary in Virginia. There, I saw “white” and “colored” signs for the first  
time, but in Virginia, for the first time, I encountered many black people.  
In New York, I encountered almost none. Segregation then characterized all  
of America, but it took different forms in different places.  
In college, I wrote a weekly column in The Flat Hat, the school’s weekly  
newspaper. I have been writing columns ever since. My political views were  
conservative—-but what was considered conservative then is quite different  
from the philosophy expressed by those who use that term today. As Vice  
President of a student group, I was involved in inviting the first black  
speaker to William and Mary. The president of the college called me to his  
office and said, “Allan, I read your column. You are a conservative. Why are  
you doing this?” I responded, “Racism is not something I want to conserve.”  
Conservatives were supposed to believe in freedom and limited government. If  
Virginia, is a free society, I argued, what right does the state have to  
tell people whom to marry, or restaurant owners whom they may serve?  
I became College Secretary of the Young Republican Federation of Virginia. I  
was a freshman in college when President Eisenhower sent troops to integrate  
the schools in Little Rock. Republicans in Virginia opposed segregation. It  
was the Democrats who closed schools rather than integrate.  
Religious Thinking  
What I did not discuss in that column was my religious thinking, which has  
involved a lifelong association with the American Council for Judaism. It  
deserved a longer discussion. Just as I was seeking an approach to political  
life that embodied the values in which I believed, so my thinking about  
religion caused me to become concerned about the nature of the Judaism I  
When I was preparing for my Bar Mitzvah, I became confused about what  
Judaism really embodied. Religion, I slowly came to understand, attempted to  
answer questions about what a worthy life was, about the nature of the  
world, about how one should live. Yet, what I encountered in the synagogue  
was a narrowness of vision, a division of the world between “us” and “them.”  
This contradicted the belief that God was the creator of men and women of  
every race and nation, and that as their Creator, He viewed them as equal.  
The focus of the Judaism I encountered was not upon God and eternal values  
but upon the State of Israel. An Israeli flag stood near the altar of the  
synagogue. Why, I wondered, was this the case? Were we not Americans? Was  
the synagogue not a place to worship God, rather than a foreign state——or  
any state? This seemed reminiscent of idolatry, as in the Biblical Story of  
the Golden Calf. We kept hearing that Jews were the “chosen” people of God.  
I wondered, for what exactly where they “chosen?”  
In High school, learning about different religions, I wanted to discover if  
there was not a Judaism which existed free of nationalism and  
politicization. In the days before the internet, I somehow discovered that  
there was indeed such a Judaism, and it was being kept alive by the American  
Council for Judaism. I called the Council on the phone and was invited to  
their offices on East 57th Street in Manhattan. On my first visit, I had a  
long lunch with Larry Margolis, then Eastern Regional Director. I also met  
Rabbi Elmer Berger, then executive Director of the Council, and two other  
rabbis on the Council staff, David Goldberg and Samuel Halevi Baron. Rabbi  
Goldberg had been the first Jewish chaplain the U.S. Navy during World War  
1. Slowly, a group of young people became involved in what became a youth  
group. These included Ned and Pete Hanauer and Eliot Bernat.  
Meeting Council Members.  
During several summers, we drove around the country, visiting Council  
members who gathered young people in their communities together to discuss  
the nature of Judaism and how it was being corrupted by Zionism. I made many  
life-long friends as a result of these trips. One of them was Marjorie Arsht  
of Houston, Texas. Marjorie was an extraordinary person, a graduate of the  
Sorbonne in Paris who later ran for the Texas State Senate. For one summer  
when I was in law school, I had a job as a reporter for the Houston Press.  
Marjorie insisted that I stay in her house, rather than in an apartment as I  
had planned. Through her I met a variety of interesting people including the  
labor leader and later congresswoman Barbara Jordan, and future president  
George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, all of whom were friends of Marjorie.  
When Bush was elected president, Marjorie came to Washington to serve in the  
Department of Housing and Urban Development.  
After college and law school, I worked on Capitol Hill, in both the Senate  
and the House of Representatives. I remember when the FBI was conducting a  
review of my application for a top-secret security clearance, required for  
my position on the staff of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. At  
that time Rabbi Berger was retired and living in Florida. He called me one  
day to report that two men in dark suits had approached him on the beach to  
discuss me and review the years he had known me.  
I wrote a regular column which appeared in “Roll Call,” the newspaper of  
Capitol Hill, and later in newspapers around the country. During these  
years, my involvement with the Council continued. I attended annual  
conferences, which involved a variety of interesting participants, including  
the historian Arnold Toynbee and Socialist leader Norman Thomas. I met a  
variety of interesting and idealistic men and women who were active in the  
Council. One of these was Klaus Herrmann, a native of Germany, whose family  
made its way to Shanghai before World War 11. When he visited Washington, I  
introduced him to a Chinese friend of mine. Klaus immediately started  
speaking in fluent Chinese.  
Editor of “Issues”  
I continued writing for “Issues.” In 1989, I became editor of Council  
publications and served as executive director of the Council. In this  
capacity, I met and worked with many idealistic and committed men and women.  
Among these was the Council’s former president, Alan Stone, and its current  
president, Steve Naman. Thus, my involvement in the Council and helping to  
advance its philosophy of Judaism has been a lifetime effort.  
One of the first books I read advancing the Council’s view of Judaism was  
Rabbi Berger’s “A Partisan History of Judaism,” published in 1952. He writes  
that, “Judaism was not a religion revealed in perfection to a limited and  
well-defined nationalistic group at Mt. Sinai. Judaism has evolved from a  
very basic, primitive and elementary tribalism that one would expect to find  
among people who lived some three thousand years ago. From that period to  
the time of the prophets, Judaism went through a period of refinement until  
it developed the idea——which I believe to be its really majestic and unique  
contribution—-of ethical monotheism, of universal values which were  
applicable to all men.”  
The God of the early Israelites was, Berger points out, “associated with a  
desert way of life. This is not yet monotheism, which means one God for all  
humanity. These Israelites, or Hebrews, would never have claimed that theirs  
was the only god in the world; it was just their god. This is called  
henotheism, which means this god for me and any number of gods for anybody  
else. We are not yet at the stage of any elevated prophetic concept, either  
of God or religion. .”  
Emergence of the Prophets  
Before the emergence of the prophets, in Berger’s view, “There was little  
about the religion of these Israelites that was either much better or much  
worse than the religion of their neighbors. For example, such institutions  
as sacred prostitution existed among these people...in primitive religions,  
men were concerned with their gods not in a moral sense but only as the gods  
affected the productivity of the soil and the fertility of the animals which  
they herded and which were their capital.”  
Suddenly, in the midst of this corrupt civilization, there emerged a group  
of individuals who began to protest. “That protest,” writes Berger, “was  
phrased with moral indignation and spoken in the name of a God Of justice  
and righteousness. The result was to provide the chapter of real genius in  
Judaism. In this protest against social injustices combined with lofty moral  
values related to a universal God, Judaism took its place as one of the  
great spiritual forces of mankind.”  
The Prophets declared that theirs was a decadent society about to be  
destroyed. This was a revolutionary concept. To proclaim to people that  
despite their material blessings and meticulous observance of the  
formalities of religion, they were doomed to catastrophe and lacked the  
favor of God. The genius of the Prophets, writes Berger, can be attributed  
to the fact that “through religion, the moral values which they perceived  
have become the foundation stones of Western civilization. With these  
Prophets, Judaism left the level of a religion attached to a cult and  
formula and became a faith in moral values, demonstrable in the history of  
man and acceptable as rational truths for society.”  
The Prophet Amos  
At the National sanctuary of Beth El in the northern kingdom, speaking to a  
congregation gathered to practice the rites of a materialistic religion, the  
Prophet Amos addressed the Congregation: “I hate, I despise your feasts and  
I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Yea, though you offer Me (God)  
burnt offerings md your meal offerings, I will not accept them. Neither will  
I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from Me the  
noise of thy songs. (meaning the liturgy chanted by the Levites in the  
temple) and let Me not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run as  
waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.”  
Some years later, Jeremiah spoke similar words to the people of the southern  
kingdom of Judah. Standing in the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem, he  
said: “Amend your ways and your doings and I will cause you to dwell in  
this place...If ye thoroughly amend your ways and doings, if ye thoroughly  
execute justice between a man and his neighbor, if ye oppress not the  
stranger and the fatherless and the widow, let not a wise man glory in his  
wisdom; neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man  
glory in his riches. But let him that glorieth glory in this: that I am the  
Lord which exercises loving kindness, judgment and righteousness in the  
earth; for in these things I delight, Saith the Lord.”  
The words of Amos, Jeremiah and the other Prophets, Berger pointed out,  
represented “...the first time that men talked of religion in terms of  
opposition to the oppression of other people and in terms of social values  
and human relationships. In the earlier period none of these considerations  
mattered. All that proved the validity of a religion was whether a people  
were able to harvest its crops and win its wars. If it failed in these  
things, they cast around for another god...here, however, was a man who  
began to talk of religion in terms of the relationships of man to man, and  
of man to society....The Prophets were the first in history to use language  
and to express ideas of this kind. And in that time in the evolution of man  
they were iconoclastic, revolutionary ideas.... Religion is now interpreted  
in terms of ethical values and human relationships.”  
Reform Judaism’s Universal Vision  
Reform Judaism, as it evolved in America, embraced the universal vision of  
the Prophets and rejected the nationalistic ethnocentrism which  
characterized Judaism’s early days, and which re-emerged in the 19th century  
in the form of Zionism. Rabbi Berger, referring to Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise,  
an early leader of American Reform Judaism, laments that, “The Reform  
Judaism which Wise conceived and which turned its back upon the medieval  
notion of a Jewish “nation” now indulges prayers for Israel Independence  
Day, teaches Zionism in its religious school textbooks, and advises that  
such ceremonial Hebrew as is still retained in the prayers follow the  
Israeli pronunciation.”  
This book had an influence on my thinking. I understood that the American  
Council for Judaism was committed to the early ideas of American Reform  
Judaism, rejecting nationalism and embracing the universal moral and ethical  
tradition of the Prophets.  
When I was in college, I took an English course titled “The Bible as  
Literature.” One of the lectures was on the subject: “If the Jews are the  
‘chosen people,’ What Were They Chosen For.” Were they chosen for special  
responsibilities or certain rewards?  
This question has been one I have thought about for some time. Over the  
years, I have come to the conclusion my professor suggested, that Jews were  
“chosen” for certain responsibilities, not for certain rewards. This goes  
back to the Prophets and their interpretation of chosenness, which  
represented a change in the very essence of Judaism. Under the covenant,  
which was modeled on a typical Middle Eastern treaty between ruler and  
ruled, God promised to bless and protect his faithful people. With the help  
of the Prophets, the chosen people came to understand that their obligations  
might be weightier than their privileges. This change came at the same time  
as the transformation of the tribal God of the armies to a universal God of  
compassion. The covenant, they came to understand, represented  
responsibilities, not privileges.  
Responsibilities, Not Privileges  
According to the Prophets, Amos, Hosea and Isaiah, being chosen by God no  
longer meant privilege, but responsibilities. This marks the beginning of a  
new religious awareness which began with Amos, denying the existence of all  
gods but Yahweh, yet stressing the importance of the chosen people, the  
prophet reconciled Jewish exceptionalism with a belief in a universal deity.  
This is a sharp break with the tribal God of Deuteronomy, who exalts Israel  
above all other peoples.  
Deut, 7: 1-6 declares: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land  
which you are entering to take possession of it and clear away many nations  
before you...Then you must utterly destroy them ...For you are a people holy  
to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people of his  
own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth.”  
The Prophets insisted that Israel was chosen for a purpose other than  
destroying its enemies. When the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, this  
experience led to the sense of a universal God, a God for all nations. The  
survival of Judaism in exile further validated the sense of holiness.  
Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon urging them to adjust to their new  
circumstances: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their  
produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. ..Seek the welfare of the  
city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf,  
for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29: 5-7)  
Transportable God  
The concept of the transportable God, the God who was everywhere, took root.  
The Babylonian exile distilled the essence of Judaism. The belief in Yahweh  
had become strong enough to survive the exile. The Israelites discovered  
that they could live in any land and worship God. The loss of Jerusalem  
marked the end of the National, tribal God as well as the temple cult. They  
came to understand that the God who loves all peoples does not desire temple  
sacrifice, but compassion and social justice, “this was the birth of true  
religion,” writes Rabbi Allan Tarshish in his book, “Not By Power, The Story  
of the Growth of Judaism.” He writes that, “By setting down great concepts  
that changed religion from tribalism and nationalism to universalism, from  
ritual to moral action they kept Judaism alive and laid down the foundation  
of all modern religions. The Prophets taught that the one God of the  
Israelites was God of all the world. ‘For my house shall be called a house  
of prayer for all peoples.’ {Isaiah 56: 6). And the Jews were to bring this  
message to all the peoples of the world.”  
According to the Prophets, the Jews had a mission. They were to become God’s  
servants and spread the truth about justice and mercy. This is a divine  
election that goes beyond any tribal theology of nationalism. It embraces  
the idea that Jews were to carry God’s message to the world. The idea of  
confining themselves to one small place was completely alien to their  
thinking. That would have made the Jews like everyone else and made it  
impossible to fulfill their mission. This is an extension, writes Tarshish,  
“of the original charge to Abraham to be a blessing.”  
While much of Judaism continued to adhere to a pre-prophetic idea of  
“chosenness,” it was Reform Judaism which came to view Jews as a “mission  
people,” whereby morality became the Jewish mission. It rejected the idea of  
“exile” and the desire to reestablish a Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine.  
The first Reform prayer book eliminated all references to Jews being in  
exile and to a Messiah who would miraculously restore Jews throughout the  
world to the historic Land of Israel and who would rebuild the Temple in  
Jerusalem. The prayer book eliminated all prayers for a return to Zion.  
Progressive Revelation  
Perhaps the most prominent of the early Reform leaders in 19th century  
Germany was Rabbi Abraham Geiger. He argued that Judaism developed through  
an evolutionary process that had begun with God’s revelation to the Hebrew  
prophets. The revelation was progressive; new truth became available to  
every generation. The underlying and unchangeable essence of Judaism was  
ethical monotheism. The Jewish people were a religious community, destined  
to carry on the mission to “serve as a light to the nations,”. To bear  
witness to God and His moral law. The dispersion of the Jews was not  
punishment for their sins, but part of God’s plan whereby they were To  
disseminate the universal message of ethical monotheism.  
In 1885, Reform rabbis, meeting in Pittsburgh, wrote an eight-point platform  
that one participant called “the most succinct expression of the theology of  
the Reform movement that had ever been published in the world.” The platform  
emphasized that Reform Judaism denied nationalism of any variety. It  
declared, “We recognize in the era of universal culture of heart and  
intellect, the approaching realization of Israel’s great messianic hope for  
the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all men.  
We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and  
therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship  
under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning  
the Jewish state.”  
In 1897, the Central Conference of American Rabbi’s adopted a resolution  
disapproving of any attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution  
declared, “Zion was a precious possession of the past...as such it is a holy  
memory, but it is not our hope of the future. America is our Zion.”  
“What Are The Jews?”  
One of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century,  
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel, who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King,  
Jr. for civil rights for all people, said that, “Judaism is not a religion  
of space and does not worship the soil. So, too, the State of Israel is not  
the climax of Jewish history, but a test of the integrity of the Jewish  
people and the competence of Israel.”  
The man most prominently identified with Reform Judaism in 19th century  
America was Isaac Mayer Wise, a rabbi who came to the United States from  
Bohemia. He saw American democracy as the fulfillment, in practice of the  
Prophetic principles which, to him, were the important elements in Judaism.  
In 1854 he said, “Moses formed one pole and the American Revolution the  
other, of an axis around which revolved the political history of 33  
centuries.” He considered America the “universal republic.” And Judaism, he  
held, was the “universal religion.” He believed that, “In its pure and  
denationalized form,” all religions of men must come to the basic truths of  
Judaism. In Wise’s view, “Only that portion of Judaism which will and must  
become the common good of all men, is religion to us, and only in this  
respect are we Jews. All other laws, ordinances, customs and usages ...have  
a secondary importance to us...Legalism is not Judaism, nor is mysticism  
Jesus, “The most influential rabbi in history.”  
In the view of early Reform Jewish leaders, the major religions of the  
Western world and the Middle East—-Judaism, Christianity and Islam——had a  
great deal in common. Rabbi Evan Moffic called Jesus “the most influential  
rabbi in history. We have almost 3 billion Christians in the world, and thus  
Jesus has been the most influential rabbi in terms of world historical  
impact.” Jewish scholars note that the common poetic expression, “Our father  
in heaven” was used literally by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer. The early  
Reform Jewish leader Emil G. Hirsch said of Jesus, “he is one of us.” Hirsch  
was one of several liberal rabbis, including Kaufman Kohler, who sought to  
place Jesus in the pantheon of Jewish prophets and teachers. They argued  
that the Sermon on the Mount should be studied at Jewish religious schools.  
As an expression of the Jewish religious tradition.  
In 1879, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise wrote of Paul Of Tarsus: “Paul conceived the  
idea of carrying into effect what all the Prophets and all the pious  
Israelites of all ages hoped and expected, the denationalization of the  
Hebrew ideal and its promulgation in the form of universal religion among  
the Gentiles, so that the whole human family might be united beneath the  
banner inscribed with the motto: ‘One god and one humanity.’”  
In his book “The First Christian,” the Rev. A. Powell Davies, a Unitarian  
minister, asks what it means when a person calls himself a Christian. Does  
it mean they are followers of what Jesus preached, which was Judaism, or the  
religion about Jesus which was later established by Paul. Rabbi John Rayner,  
for many years a leader of Liberal Judaism in the United Kingdom noted that,  
“The religious beliefs and values Jesus affirmed and taught were those of  
Judaism and not any other religion. In short, he was Jewish through and  
through. And the idea of founding a new and different religion never crossed  
his mind.”  
Prophetic Universalism  
Judaism would have continued to move toward the prophetic universalism of  
the early Reformers, it is widely believed, if it was not for the rising  
anti-Semitism in Russia and Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century  
followed by the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s. In the wake of the  
Holocaust, many Jews began to look positively upon the idea of creating a  
Jewish state in Palestine as a refuge for the victims of persecution. Jewish  
organizations in the U.S. which had always opposed Zionism, a philosophy  
which held that Jews living outside of Palestine were in “exile” and urged  
all Jews to emigrate, began to view it more favorably. Slowly, even Reform  
Judaism embraced it. The American Council for Judaism was created in 1942 to  
maintain the philosophy of a universal Judaism, free of nationalism and  
politicization. American Jews, they proclaimed, were American by nationality  
and Jews by religion, just as other Americans were Protestant, Catholic or  
Muslim. In his keynote address, Rabbi David Phillipson declared that Zionism  
and Reform Judaism were incompatible: “Reform Judaism is spiritual, Zionism  
is political. The outlook of Zionism is a corner of Eastern Asia.” The first  
pledge of major financial backing was made by Aaron Strauss, a nephew and  
heir of Levi Strauss of blue jeans fame.  
An early leader of the Council, and one I got to know during my early years  
with the organization, was Rabbi Morris Lazaron, who served from 1915 to  
1946 as rabbi of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. He was originally a  
supporter of cultural Zionism, but later altered his views. Slowly, he  
discovered that Zionist nationalism was not different from other forms of  
nationalism: “The Jewish nationalist philosophy of separateness as a people  
who would always and inevitably be rejected because they were Jews boldly  
asserted itself. The idea seems to have been to break down the self-  
confidence and opposition to Jewish nationalism...Behind the mask of Jewish  
settlement, one can see the specter of the foul thing which moves Germany  
and Italy. Behind the camouflage of its unquestioned appeal to Jewish  
feeling, one can hear a chorus of ‘Heil.’ This is not for Jews—-Reform,  
Conservative or Orthodox.” Speaking at the January 1937 annual meeting of  
the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in New Orleans, Lazaron declared:  
“Judaism cannot accept as the instrument of salvation the very philosophy of  
nationalism which is leading the world to destruction. Shall we condemn it  
as Italian or German, but accept it as Jewish?”  
Rabbis who joined the Council led some of the nation’s leading  
congregations. Among them were Samuel Goldenson of New York, Irving Reichart  
of San Francisco, David Marx of Atlanta, Edward Calisch of Richmond, Henry  
Cohen of Galveston, Samuel Koch of Seattle and Julian Feibelman of New  
Orleans. The Council also recruited many nationally prominent laypersons  
including Judge Marcus Sloss of the California Supreme Court, Herbert and  
Stanley Marcus of the Nieman-Marcus company in Dallas, Admiral Lewis L.  
Strauss, and Alfred M. Cohen, president of B’nai B’rith.  
Lessing J. Rosenwald  
The first president of the Council, who I got to know, was Lessing J.  
Rosenwald, who had retired as chairman of Sears Roebuck and Co., which was  
founded by his father, the respected philanthropist Julian Rosenwald who,  
among many other things, worked with Booker T. Washington to build schools  
for black children in the South after the Civil War. Both Julius and Lessing  
Rosenwald were firm believers in the principles of social justice advocated  
by early Reform Jewish spokesmen. They found Jewish nationalism to be  
contrary to the universal Prophetic Judaism to which they adhered.  
Rabbi Reichart made his first significant declaration of opposition to  
Zionism in a January 1936 sermon: “if my reading of Jewish history is  
correct, Israel took upon itself the yoke of the Law not in Palestine, but  
in the wilderness at Mt. Sinai and by far the greater part of...its  
distinguished contribution to world culture was produced not in Palestine  
but in Babylon and the lands of the Dispersion. Jewish states may rise and  
fall, as they have risen and fallen in the past, but the people of Israel  
will continue to minister at the altar of the most high God in all the lands  
in which they dwell...There is too dangerous a parallel between the  
insistence of some Zionist spokesmen upon nationality and race and blood,  
and similar pronouncements by fascist leaders in Europe.”  
When the American Council for Judaism was established, Judah Magnes ,  
chancellor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote a letter endorsing  
its statement of principles: “It is true that Jewish nationalism tends to  
confuse people not because it is secular and not religious , but because  
this nationalism is unhappily chauvinistic and narrow and terroristic in the  
best style of Eastern European nationalism.”  
German Romantic Nationalism  
From 1943 to 1948, the Council conducted its public campaign against  
Zionism. One of the speakers at its 1945 conference was Hans Kohn, a one-  
time German Zionist associated with the University in Exile in New York. He  
declared, “The Jewish nationalist philosophy has developed entirely under  
German influence, the German romantic nationalism with the emphasis on  
blood, race and descent as the most determining factor in human life, its  
historicizing attempt to connect with a legendary past 2,000 or so years  
ago, its emphasis on folk as a mythical body, the source of civilization.”  
In his book, “Jews Against Zionism, The American Council for Judaism, 1941-  
1948,” professor Thomas Kolsky writes: “The anti-Zionism of the American  
Council for Judaism represented an American Jewish tradition older than  
Zionism. Most of the leaders and the rank and file of the ACJ were highly  
acculturated Reform Jews, who rejected Jewish nationalism and defined  
themselves as a purely religious group. They opposed Zionism not only as  
self-segregation tantamount to a return to the ghetto but also fundamentally  
contrary to democratic principles.”  
In the face of the 1947 partition of Palestine, the Council wished the new  
state well, and declared its determination to resist Zionist efforts to  
dominate Jewish life in America. The Council was, many have now come to see,  
prophetic. Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University historian and author of the  
book “American Judaism,”. Says that, “Everything they (the American Council  
for Judaism) prophesied—-dual loyalty, nationalism being evil—has come to  
pass.” He states that, “It’s certainly the case that if the Holocaust  
underscored the problems of Jewish life in the Diaspora, recent years have  
highlighted the point that Zionism is no panacea.”  
Nationality and Religion are Separate and Distinct  
In January 1948, the Council adopted a statement of principles which  
declared in part, “Nationality and religion are separate and distinct. Our  
nationality is American, Our religion is Judaism. our homeland is the United  
States of America. We reject any concept that Jews are at home only in  
In the book “Reclaiming Judaism From Zionism,” professor Carolyn L. Karcher  
says the Council was prophetic in its assessment of where Zionism would  
lead. Rejecting the ethnocentric nationalism Zionism embraced, the Council,  
she writes, “...promoted democracy, human rights and human solidarity as the  
continued alternative to Zionism and the ultimate solution to racial, ethnic  
and religious bigotry of all kinds.”  
Trivializing Judaism  
The more I studied the history of Judaism and its intimate connection with  
Christianity and Islam, the more it became clear to me that Zionism, and  
those who incorporated it into Judaism in the post-World War ll years, had  
trivialized its meaning and essence, and its essential contribution to  
mankind, in particular to Western civilization. In his book “the Gifts of  
the Jews,” Thomas Cahill writes, “Without the Jews, we would see the world  
with different eyes, hear with different ears, and even feel with different  
feelings...The people of the Western world, for better or worse, the role of  
the West in humanity’s history, is singular. There is simply no one else  
remotely like them. Theirs is a unique vocation. Indeed, the very idea of  
vocation, of a personal destiny, is a Jewish idea.”  
Though the Bible is considered the book of the Western world, its foundation  
document, Cahill notes that, “...it actually is a collection of books, a  
various library, written entirely in Hebrew over the course of a thousand  
years. ...When God reveals his plan of destruction for Sodom and Gomorrah  
Abraham attempts to reason with him. ‘Will you really sweep away the  
innocent along with the guilty?’ By questioning God, who has gradually been  
revealing his awesome grandeur to Abraham, the patriarch exhibits striking  
courage that will reappear in his descendants throughout the ages to come. A  
veritable tug-of-war ensues, ending with God’s promise is to stay his hand  
if as few as ten innocents are found within the walls of those cities.”  
Beyond this, Cahill points out, “The Jews gave us a whole new vocabulary of  
the spirit, an inner landscape of ideas and feelings that had never been  
known before. Over many centuries of trauma. And suffering they came to  
believe in one God. Because of their unique belief, monotheism, the Jews  
were able to give us the Great Whole, a unified universe that makes sense  
and, because of its evident superiority as a world view, completely  
overwhelming the warring and contradictory phenomena of polytheism, they  
gave us the conscience of the West, the belief that this God, who is one, is  
not the God of outward show, but the “still small voice’ of conscience, the  
God of compassion, the God who will be there, the Lord who cares about each  
of his creatures, especially the human beings he created ‘in his own image.’  
And he insists that we do the same.”  
Ethnocentrism and Universalism.  
The ethnocentrism found in the early books of the Bible, and promoted in  
more recent times by Zionism, was superseded by a universalism and concern  
for all of humanity which was embraced by Reform Judaism and has been kept  
alive by the American Council for Judaism. The gradual universalization of  
Jewish ideas can be seen in the story of Ruth, the Moabite, and was foreseen  
by Joel, a late prophet: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I shall  
pour out my spirit on all humanity. your sons and daughters will prophesy,  
your old people shall dream dreams, and your young people see visions.”  
The Jews, Thomas Cahill concludes, “...gave us the outside and the inside—-  
our outlook and our inner life. we can hardly get up in the morning or cross  
the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish  
hopes. Most of our best words: war, adventure, purpose, unique, individual,  
person, history, freedom, progress, hope—-are the gifts of the Jews.”  
It was always my view that Judaism’s significant contribution to the world  
was being trivialized by Zionism. If it had not been for the Holocaust,  
Zionism would have remained a minority view within the Jewish community.  
Now, sympathy for Zionism among American Jews is in steady decline and the  
classical Reform Jewish commitment to Prophetic Judaism and universalism,  
which the American Council for Judaism has kept alive, increasingly  
characterizes the views of American Jews, particularly those in the younger  
Israel As a Source of Division  
In his book “Trouble in The Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over  
Israel,” Professor Dov Waxman of Northeastern University writes: “A historic  
change has been taking place in the American Jewish relationship with  
Israel. Israel is fast becoming a source of division rather than unity for  
American Jewry...This echoes earlier debates about Zionism which occurred  
before 1948. Then, as now, there were fierce disagreements among American  
Jews and the American Jewish establishment...It was only after Israel’s  
founding that the communal consensus came to dominate American Jewish  
politics. Thus, from a historical perspective, the pro-Israel consensus that  
once reigned within the American Jewish community is the aberration, rather  
than the rule. Jewish division on Israel is historically the norm.”  
Beyond this, Waxman notes that the overwhelming majority of American Jews,  
while wishing Israel well, were never really Zionists: “Classical Zionism  
has never had much relevance or appeal to American Jewry. Indeed, the vast  
majority of American Jews reject the basic elements of classical Zionism—-  
that Diaspora Jews live in exile, that Jewish life in Israel is superior to  
life in the Diaspora, and that Diaspora Jewish life is doomed to eventually  
disappear. American Jews do not think that they live in exile and they do  
not regard Israel as their homeland...For many American Jews, America is  
more than just home, it is itself a kind of Zion, an ‘almost promised land’  
Zionism has never succeeded in winning over the majority of American Jews.”  
Optimism About The Future  
I am optimistic about the future. More and more American Jews are expressing  
their commitment to social justice, in part, by rejecting Israel’s treatment  
of Palestinians. They believe that religion should bring us together, not  
divide us. They may not know it, but the Judaism they are embracing is very  
much like the Judaism the American Council for Judaism has kept alive. It is  
likely to grow and thrive in the future. I hope that when my grandchildren  
are old enough to read the book I have prepared—-and this article—-they will  
get an idea of their grandfather’s. values and thoughts. I hope they will  
live in a better world and will help to make it so. *

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.