United Synagogue welcomes Non-Orthodox unity plan

By Simon Rocker, September 19, 2008
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The United Synagogue has welcomed last week's call by non-Orthodox leaders for greater partnership as "good news for the community".

In an article in today's JC, Simon Hochhauser, the president of the US, applauded the Statement on Communal Collaboration issued by the Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements - but without revealing whether Britain's largest Orthodox body would also be signing it.

Dr Hochhauser writes: "It is a commitment by these movements to rise above their differences and to collaborate with each other. They are committing themselves to do what the United Synagogue already does: work for the sake of the Jewish community as a whole."

The statement - which called for "true pluralism" in British Jewry - has arisen out of increasing dissatisfaction among the three non-Orthodox movements with the Stanmore Accords, the pact to promote "peaceful co-existence" they signed with the US a decade ago.

But Dr Hochhauser pledged his commitment to the 10-year-old agreement, saying that the US was "very keen to see the process created by the accords continue and flourish".

He promised that the US would in future send a senior rabbi to the community consultative committee (CCC) - the forum for US, Masorti and Progressive leaders established by the accords, which is supposed to convene quarterly, although it has not met for a year.

He writes: "I am sure there is more that we can explore together both at the institutional and individual community level. Some of us, rabbis, lay leaders and members, will wish to do more than others, but that again is a reflection of the diversity of our United Synagogue family."

Setting out the areas of co-operation with the non-Orthodox, he says that the US would continue to work with them on "Israel advocacy, security, welfare, Holocaust remembrance, the fight against antisemitism and relationships with other faiths".

But on Jewish education and law, he states, "we agree to differ with respect and dignity".
He says that the definition of pluralism in last week's declaration - treating other groups with respect - should pose "no problem" for Orthodox Jews, "as it does not require any denomination within Judaism to compromise its religious principles or to recognise the validity of those of the other."

Dr Hochhauser adds: "I am far more interested in what unites us as Jews. So let us not waste time on dwelling on the obsession that some have on what divides us. For the sake of the wider community, we must, whilst mutually recognising and respecting our boundaries, concentrate on going forward together."
Alan Finlay, the president of the Federation of Synagogues, ruled out its joining the CCC and declined comment on the statement on collaboration.

Rabbi Abraham Levy, spiritual head of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, said he saw no need for it to take part in the CCC as "we have amicable relations with all sections of the Jewish community. When we held a service at Bevis Marks two years ago to celebrate 350 years of Anglo-Jewry, it was attended by all sections, from Stamford Hill to the Liberals."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, may be joined on his forthcoming visit to Auschwitz under the auspices of the Holocaust Educational Trust by both the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and the head of the Reform movement, Rabbi Tony Bayfield, who are fellow presidents of the Council of Christians and Jews.

 

    Last updated: 1:54pm, September 22 2008