CCAR History

A brief history of the CCAR excerpted from Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook, edited by Kerry M. Olitzky, Lance Jonathan Sussman, and Malcolm H. Stern, published in 1993. The selection below begins on page 263.


Among Isaac M. Wise’s many plans for American Jewry was the creation of an ongoing rabbinic body to synthesize the best ideas for the promotion of Judaism.  Before coming to this country, Wise had attended the conference of Reform rabbis in Frankfurt-am Main in 1844.  Although his participation has not been fully documented, the conference probably motivated his efforts to train leaders for America’s Jews1.

It was Wise, the recently arrived immigrant, who in 1848 first proposed a lay-rabbinic conference, which never materialized.  Rabbis did come together in Cleveland in 1855 and in Philadelphia in 1869 in what Wise and other attendees hoped would become annual meetings.  Later, in his first presidential message in 1890 to the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), Wise specified why these previous meetings had failed.  He cited, as the primary cause, divisions of opinion as to the amount and nature of reform.  Five years earlier Wise had recognized that the Pittsburgh Conference over which he reluctantly presided had produced a platform that enunciated an extreme view of Reform Judaism.  At the very session that approved the Pittsburgh Platform, Wise said, “Gentlemen, what are we going to do with this Declaration of Independence?”  Experience had taught him that such a statement could only prove divisive, and indeed it did, pushing the more traditional Easterners into opening the Jewish Theological Seminary as a rival to Wise’s Hebrew Union College.  The 18 rabbis at Pittsburgh planned to convene the following May in Cincinnati.  As with all the previous conferences, there was no immediate sequel2.

Birth of the CCAR

On March 29, 1889, Wise turned 70, an occasion marked by his congregation on April 6 with an outpouring of testimonials from all parts of the city and the country.  Disciples and representatives of many organizations added their tributes.  Cantor Moritz Goldstein of Congregalion K. K. Bene Israel (now Rockdale Temple) composed and performed a cantata.  This occasion was followed by a celebration at Hebrew Union College (HUC). The euphoria of these celebrations undoubtedly induced Wise to further his dream of an enduring rabbinical conference.  Despite the furor engendered by the Pittsburgh Platform, a number rabbis had endorsed it.  By the summer of 1889, Wise had ordained 20 of his students.  These rabbis provided him with a putative power base, predominantly in the Midwest and South.  Wise arranged with David Philipson, by then rabbi of Cincinnati’s Bene Israel, to prepare and circulate a proposal to rabbis who might be attending the July 9-10 council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) for the formation of a “Central Conference of American Rabbis3.

On July 9, 1889, Philipson’s resolution was passed and a committee of five was appointed to plan the organization.  The following day the committee presented a resolution that pointed to the failure of prior conferences but proposed to go ahead with an executive of five officers.  The work of prior conferences in Germany and America would serve as guides “in an endeavor to maintain in unbroken historic succession the fannulated expression of Jewish thought and life of each era.”  Any rabbi who was serving a Hebrew congregation or who had held such office could be admitted if he applied before the following Passover.  Thereafter, membership would be open to a wide gamut of categories that included not only Ph.D.s with ordination but also autodidactic preachers, teachers of religion, authors of eminent books on Jewish theology or literature or anyone who rendered practical service to the cause of Judaism, all subject to majority vote of the body in order to be admitted.  Annual dues were set at five dollars, with paid-up members entitled to a free copy of the association’s pubIications.  Members were expected to attend all meetings or provide a letter excusing their absence.

Rabbi Samuel Adler, the only surviving attendee of all post-1840 conferences, was named honorary president.  Wise had wanted Adler to be president of the CCAR, but Adler refused, so Wise was elected unanimously and continued in office for the rest of his life.  Elected with him were Samuel Sale of St. Louis, vice-president; Henry Berkowitz of Kansas City, recording secretary; David Philipson of Cincinnati, corresponding secretary; Aaron Hahn of Cleveland, treasurer; and as Executive Committee: Lippmann Mayer of Pittsburgh, Professor Moses Mielziner of Cincinnati, Max Samfield of Memphis, Solomon H. Sonneschein of St. Louis, Joseph Stolz of Chicago, Maximilian Heller of New Orleans and Adolph Moses of Louisville.4

The preliminary meeting resolution also anticipated that the CCAR would meet annually in conjunction with the councils of the UAHC, but provision was made for the rabbis to set their own meeting schedule at other times.  Business was to be completed at each session unless referred to a committee.  Proceedings were to appear in an annual yearbook, which might also include appropriate essays and communications approved by the body.  Copies of the yearbook would be distributed gratis to members, to the press and to interested parties, with additional copies available for sale.  The outcome of the preliminary meeting would be sent to every Jewish paper in the land, inviting all rabbis to submit their names and payment of dues before the following Passover.  The initial yearbook would include transcriptions in English of all prior conferences.  One half of the five-dollar annual dues would be set aside as the “Relief Fund of the Conference” to prevent colleagues and their families from becoming objects of charity.

The resolution passed unanimously, and the CCAR was born.5

Growth and Development

By the first convention in Cleveland, July 13-15, 1890,  Wise could boast in his President’s Message that 90 rabbis had affiliated.  From that auspicious beginning, the CCAR has grown beyond 1500 members in 1991 and increases by 40 to 50 annually.  The patterns established at its beginnings have been maintained, testimony to Isaac M. Wise’s ability to organize.  Each session opens with a challenging presidential message, which is then referred to a committee with the responsibility of recommending appropriate actions to the plenum.  The constitution and bylaws ratified by the first convention have been enlarged and amended occasionally, but the basics have survived.  The originally broad admission requirements have necessarily narrowed to maintain high professional standards.  Each convention contains its measure of worship, scholarship, resolutions on timely topics, many of which are ardently debated, and proposals of projects of service to the Reform movement.  Lectures are presented by knowledgeable members or outside experts.  For many years, tyros in the CCAR were “seen but not heard.”  In recent years, active participation of all age groups has been encouraged.  By 1892, the convention had become separated from the councils of the UAHC and extended over five days, from Wednesday through Sunday.  The earliest conventions were held in July to conform to the rabbis’ vacation time, but as the CCAR grew in stature in the eyes of the movement, it was found feasible to hold conventions in June.  This summer tradition was broken in 1889 when the CCAR paid tribute to its founder’s 70th binhday by meeting in Cincinnati in March.  March was not chosen again until 1970, when the CCAR held its first convention in Jerusalem.  Although June remains the preferred month, the Executive Board has occasionally opted for spring meetings.  Until 1968, the conventions ran over the Sabbath, with Friday evening devoted to the Conference Lecture and Saturday morning to the Conference Sermon.  So many rabbis found it necessary to return to their congregations for weekend responsibilities that the conventions are almost invariably held from Sunday through Thursday.


More than 100 annual yearbooks have now been published.  Each contains the record of that year’s activities and includes the President’s Message, reports of officers, full reports of committees and commissions, all major addresses, memorial tributes, resolutions and responsa (answers to queries, usually ritual) and the roster of membership.  In 1892, the convention voted to engage a professional stenographer to record the proceedings.  Until 1952, every debate was included in full, but since that date, only debates on major issues have been recorded; for others, only the outcome has been stated.  The appendices now include a page of tribute to Isaac M. Wise, a list of charter members, a necrology, locations of past conventions, past presidents and honorary presidents, constitution and bylaws, actions of the convention and of the Executive Board, the year’s audited balance sheet, the convention program and rosters of officers, committee personnel, honorary members and members listed both alphabetically and geographically.  The volumes of the yearbook have been indexed individually and cumulatively.  The yearbooks remain an invaluable source of data on the changing thought in the Reform movement and on the rabbinic participation in those changes.6


The death of Isaac Mayer Wise in 1900 after 11 years as founding president brought to the post of president Joseph Silverman, of New York’s Temple EmanuEl, who was recognized for having done more than anyone else to bond the recalcitrant eastern Reform rabbis to the Central Conference.  He served for three years, to be followed by colleagues, most of whom served for two one-year terms.  In CCAR elections, the most-sought office has been that of vice president, since this is tantamount to president-elect.  Over the years this has led to considerable electioneering and pressures on the annual Committee on Nominations, which was appointed at the beginning of each convention and met in a series of late-night sessions in order to report its slate before the close of the convention.  In 1975 the assemblage voted to move the nominating process away from conventions, and this has dignified the process.

Editing the yearbook was the responsibility of the elected recording secretary.  In 1915 Isaac Marcuson was chosen for that office. As rabbi in Terre Haute, Indiana, and subsequently Macon, Georgia, he devoted more and more of his time to serving the CCAR, diligently editing all works produced by the organization until his death in 1952.  He became in effect the CCAR’s administrative secretary, not only editing the yearbook but also handling the sales of all CCAR publications.  His post-office box in Macon became the CCAR’s mailing address. His footlocker filled with books and files would arrive at each convention to serve as his CCAR office equipment.  For many years his able assistant at conventions was the stenographer Rosie Mark from Cleveland.  Both prided themselves on knowing the membership by name and face. Marcuson’s death caused President Joseph Fink to designate Recording Secretary Sidney Lefkowitz to handle the paper work, Bertram Korn to edit the Yearbook and Sidney Regner to deal with publications.

Marcuson’s demise brought the CCAR to the realization of its need for a permanent office in New York City with a full-time administrator.  In November 1953, a special subcommittee met and defined the role of Executive Vice President.  HUC-JIR had offered space on its campus. Rabbi Sidney L. Regner was unanimously elected and installed at the 1954 convention as Executive Vice President, and he served until his retirement in 1971.  Regner demonstrated a splendid capacity for handling the myriad of administrative details and was vigilant in controlling the expenditures.  As the CCAR’s representative at many of the national bodies and meetings of various organizations, he was a bold defender of the CCAR’s prerogatives and an advocate of Reform Judaism’s positions.  Past attempts to create regional associations of rabbis had been met by the CCAR with the fear that regional groups might fragment the body and dissipate its effectiveness.  In 1946 the rabbis in the far West felt themselves to be so remote from headquarters that they organized a Western Association of Reform Rabbis.  By 1955 the CCAR had come to recognize the value of regional groups and approved their formation with guidelines so that the central body would retain the right to be spokesperson.  Regner began attending as many of the regional meetings as he could fit into his schedule, finding that they gave him both a platform and a sounding board.  The subsequent members of the CCAR executive staff have followed this pattern of attendance. Many of the elected presidents also try to attend regional sessions.

Regner’s announced retirement in 1971 brought Rabbi Joseph Glaser from a position as UAHC Regional Director for Northern California and the Pacific Northwest to the office of Executive Vice President. Glaser, who had acquired a degree in law before entering HUC-JIR, had already proved himself in the realms of social action and in government lobbying.  An ardent and outspoken Zionist, he not only encouraged the CCAR to meet in Israel every seven years but also became actively involved with many of Israel’s leaders.  To the CCAR he brought a vision of its potential as a significant participant in all phases of Jewish and American life.  He soon enlarged its committee structure and the scope of its activities.

In 1963 the CCAR had approved the employment of an administrative assistant to Sidney Regner.  Norman Mirsky, a newly ordained rabbi, served for one year before finding a more congenial position on the HUC-JIR faculty.  In the summer of 1974, Joseph Glaser secured the assistance of a rabbinical student from HUC-JIR, Elliot L. Stevens.  On his ordination in 1975, the CCAR hired Stevens as Glaser’s full-time administrative assistant, a position he has continued to hold, with the title Administrative Secretary of the CCAR.  Among his many responsibilities are designing, producing and selling publications, editing the yearbooks, organizing conventions, serving as parliamentarian and compiling and producing statistics and compendia of CCAR resolutions, responsa and guidelines.


Until the late 1940s, when HUC and JlR merged into one institution, the placement of graduates of both HUC and JlR was usually negotiated by the president of each seminary. The presidents also assisted rabbis desirous of moving, although much of the mobility was determined by congregational committees that selected from rabbis of their acquaintance or recommended by persons they knew.  Over the years, the CCAR conventions raised the issue of regulating placement, but no actions were taken.  In 1947, 147 rabbis emerged from the World War II chaplaincy.  Many sought new posts.  In the ensuing scramble, three young, comparatively inexperienced rabbis secured three of the largest positions available, and the CCAR pressed for a placement system that would place higher priorities on experience.  In 1951 a Provisional Placement Committee was established, with Rabbi Sidney Regner for the CCAR, Rabbi Louis Egelson for the UAHC and Richard Bluestein for HUC-JlR.  The Provisional Committee was created as a service to rabbis and congregations, and both groups were encouraged but not obligated to use it.  In the course of a decade, both the rabbis and the committee felt that a better system was needed.  The rabbis approved the idea of taxing themselves to engage a full-time placement director, while a joint CCAR-UAHC committee hammered out the specifics of a placement plan.  In 1963, CCAR President Leon Feuer chose Rabbi Malcolm Stern as director, subject to the eventual approval of the movement’s three constituent bodies.  Installed in 1964, Stern initiated a newsletter announcing all openings and the development of categories of eligibility based on years from ordination vis-a-vis the size of the congregation.  Individual rabbis were pledged to seek positions only through the placement office and to act in accordance with its guidelines.  To handle breakdowns of Rabbinical-Congregational relationships, the late Theodore Broido of the UAHC staff developed a Joint Commission on Rabbinical-Congregational Relationship.  Staffed by a part-time UAHC director with co-chair-persons from the UAHC and CCAR, this commission can be summoned either by a rabbi or by congregational leadership to conciliate or arbitrate a dispute.

Malcolm Stern served as placement director from 1964 to 1980, when A. Stanley Dreyfus became his successor. Dreyfus’ extensive knowledge of Jewish liturgy contributed immeasurably to the CCAR’s output in this field.  He began placement service in 1979 and retired in 1991, to be succeeded by Arnold Sher, a rabbi-lawyer.


In the early 1960s, it became evident to both the CCAR and HUC-JlR that the expanded activities of the Conference demanded larger office space than HUC-JlR could provide.  In 1964 a suite in a new office building at 790 Madison Avenue was obtained.  By 1980, major publishing operations forced the CCAR to find larger quarters, and an entire floor was rented at 21 East 40th Street until 1985, when inflationary rents forced it to move to a less expensive location at 192 Lexington Avenue, where the CCAR was joined by the Rabbinical Pension Board.

Liturgical Publication

The CCAR’s first mandate from Issac Mayer Wise was to create a set of prayer books to help unify America’s Reform movement, since the earlier liturgies of David Einhorn, Isaac Mayer Wise and Benjamin Szold had factionalized America’s liberal Jews.  At the 1890 meeting, a heavily-debated process began that eventually chose Isaac Moses English adaptation of David Einhorn’s German Olath Tamid, the most radical of the prototypes. Volume I for Sabbaths, festivals and weekdays appeared in 1892, with the holy day volume 2 published two years later.  An attempt to add Isaac M. Wise’s hymnal (volume 4 of his Minhag America) was defeated, and the Cantors’ Association of America, headed by Alois Kaiser, was given the task of producing a new hymnal, published in 1897.7

Despite their adoption by a large majority of Reform congregations, dissatisfaction with the contents of these prayer books was soon evident.  The stilted Victorian English, much influenced by Germanic style, lost appeal for an American-born generation.  The contents of the new Bible translation eventually published in 1917 by the Jewish Publication Society required changing many liturgical passages, and a revised volume I was published.  The end of World War I, the “war to end all wars,” brought a euphoric belief in the human potential that demanded a theological change in the prayers, so volume 2 was even more revised and appeared in 1922.  In these revisions it was recognized that most congregants were ignorant of Hebrew, and only basic rubrics-mostly to be sung by the choir-appeared in the sacred tongue.  The Great Depression and the beginnings of Hitler’s persecution made these editions obsolete in tone and by 1940 a “Newly Revised” volume I offered five varied services for Sabbath eve.  Under the influence of the “Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism” promulgated at its Columbus, Ohio, convention in 1937.  The new liturgy included more Hebrew texts, and the fifth service offered a much-disputed prayer for Zion.  The news of Hitler’s “Final Solution” had a profound effect on the “Newly Revised volume 2 that appeared in 1944, but the old German tradition of omitting the Hebrew text of Kol Nidre was preserved.8  The birth of the State of Israel and Reform’s embrace of a pro-Israel stance, especially after the Six-Day War of 1967, made the older prayer books obsolete for most rabbis, and the holy day volume Gates of Repentence was published in 1973 to be followed two years later by the more complex Gates of Prayer.  Both volumes dropped the archaic “thee” and “thou.”  Gates of Prayer, in recognition of the multiplicity of theological and ritual viewpoints then prevalent, provided ten Sabbath eve services and six for Sabbath morning ranging in content from the more traditional prayer book to a humanistic service in which God is not mentioned.  Another innovation was to recognize in print those rabbis who had created the volumes, thereby annulling the CCAR tradition of liturgical anonymity.  The evolution of feminism and the ordination of increasing numbers of women rabbis have produced a demand for liturgy with gender-neutral prayer language.  Experimental versions are being issued by the CCAR.

Over its century of existence, the CCAR has also produced varied versions of a Union Haggadah, the latest being illustrated by the noted artist Leonard Baskin.  The CCAR has also published volumes of prayer for private devotion, rabbis’ manuals, responsa and recently a whole series of Gates: of Understanding (commentaries on the prayer books); of Mitzvah (life-cycle ceremonies); of the House (home rituals); of Shabbat (shabbat observance); of the Seasons (festival observance); of Forgiveness (Selichot: late-Saturday-night penitential service before the New Year); of Healing (for those who are ill).  Children’s liturgical volumes and home prayers are also part of the output.  In a vain effort to make the festivals more meaningful spiritually and intellectually, the CCAR produced The Five Scrolls, but few congregations seemed interested.  Like the prayer books, the Union Hymnals have reflected the changing views in the Reform movement.9

Other Publications

In 1896 the CCAR brought out a volume of Sermons by American Rabbis.  From 1906 to 1947, an annual set of holy day sermons was issued.  Apparently more useful to the contemporary rabbinate has been the quarterly periodical begun in 1953 as CCAR Journal, now called CCAR Journal: A Reform lewish Quarterly.  It contains scholarly discussions, literary expressions. how-to pieces and other exchanges of ideas.  In 1961, after the death in office of President Israel Bettan, longtime Professor of Homiletics at the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR, an Israel Bettan Memorial Volume was produced with articles and data about preaching.  For the CCAR’s 75th anniversary, it published a volume of essays, Retrospect and Prospect, on its history and its changing views on theology, liturgy, social justice, church and state, the Jew in the modem world,  Jewish education, the organized American Jewish community and the role of the rabbi.  For its 1989 centennial observance, the CCAR issued Tanu Rabbanan:Our Rabbis Taught, updating the CCAR’s history and views.

Major Issues

The first issue of concern to the CCAR at its initial convention was the question of whether adult male proselytes needed to be circumcised.  Henry Berkowitz was given the task of surveying the rabbinate, and many responded. The CCAR was not yet strong enough to adopt a decisive view in the face of so many opinions, so it published all the responses.10  This seems to have established the CCAR’s unwritten pattern that the majority of its decisions are not binding on the individual member.

The question of lay participation in making decisions more authoritative was hotly debated from 1903 to 1906, but no consensus could be reached.  The sarne era saw debates on the then popular Sunday services and whether they replaced the Sabbath ones.  This was resolved by a decision that the historical Sabbath be preserved and that Sunday worship be categorized as weekday, necessitating the publication of weekday services. Sunday services in some congregations lasted through World War II. Since then, a number of congregations have introduced daily services.

Intermarriage and the rabbi have been frequently discussed.  In 1909 the CCAR adopted the following negative resolution:  “Mixed marriages are contrary to the tradition of the Jewish religion and should therefore be discouraged by the American rabbinate.”  Several attempts to strengthen this resolution were defeated.  In 1971 the opponents of rabbis officiating at intermarriages raised the issue again.  An ad hoc committee brought a new resolution to the 1973 convention that again was strongly debated and much amended until the following text was adopted:

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, recalling its stand adopted in 1909 …now declares its opposition to participation by its members in any ceremony which solemnizes a mixed marriage.
[It] recognizes that historically its members have held and continue to hold divergent interpretations of Jewish tradition.
In order to keep open every channel to Judaism and K’lal Yisrael for those who’ve already entered into mixed marriage, the CCAR calls upon its members:

  1. to assist fully in educating children of such mixed marriages as Jews;
  2. to provide the opportunity for conversion of the non-Jewish spouse; and
  3. to encourage a creative and consistent cultivation of involvement in the Jewish community and the synagogue.11

Attempts to enunciate a Reform theology proved equally difficult.  Although the assimilative Pittsburgh Platform was never officially adopted by any of the movement’s organizations, its sentiments prevailed in the movement until the 1930s.  By then, an increasing number of East European, pro-Zionist and pro-ritual rabbis felt that Pittsburgh Platform Judaism could not serve the faith.  A statement of “Guiding Principles for Reform Judaism” was subjected to considerable debate but eventually adopted at the 1937 convention in Columbus, Ohio.  It is remembered as Reform’s first formal statement in support of the upbuilding of Zion and, more vaguely, as an expression of Jewish peoplehood.  The issue of Zionism had divided the CCAR since the early Zionist conventions in Basel.  As the price for permitting the passage of the 1937 pro-Zionist statement and in a vain effort at making peace between factions, the Zionists accepted a convention.  In 1942 a resolution in support of a Jewish brigade in the British army in North Africa was deemed a violation of the agreement.  A group of anti-Zionists led by Louis Wolsey met after the convention and organized the American Council for Judaism.  It proved to be the last organized gasp of the anti-Zionists.  With the birth of Israel in 1948, most of the rabbis, including Wolsey, resigned from the Council.  The Six-Day War of 1967 effectively buried the Council and brought the entire Reform movement into active support of the new state.  The resultant blossoming of the movement, with its many divergent viewpoints on theology, ritual and social action, made it impossible for the joint commission of the UAHC and CCAR to draft a new platform.  Instead of proposing new directions for the movement, the commission produced in 1976 “A Centenary Perspective,” which defined the movement as it existed in the early 1970s, pointing to an affirmation of God’s existence and role in the lives of humanity.  It also stressed the peoplehood of Jewry, the ongoing revelation of Torah, and obligations to the performance of ritual and to the State of Israel as well as to survival and to serving humanity.  Maintaining that “Jewish survival is warrant for human hope,” the “Perspective” ends by stating that “we remain God’s witness that history is not meaningless,” so we continue to work and wait for the Messianic era.

In his presidential address at the 1979 UAHC Biennial, Rabbi Alexander Schindler called on the CCAR to redefine “Who Is a Jew?” to include patrilinear as well as matrilinear descent, provided that the parents announce that they are rearing their child Jewishly or that the child receives formal Jewish education.  For many Reform rabbis, this had been accepted practice and was specifically stated in the 1961 revision of the Rabbi’s Manual.  Despite strong objections from Maram (the embattled Israeli Reform rabbinate) and a number of other CCAR members who sympathized with it, the North American members of the CCAR endorsed the report of the Committee on Patrilineality.12

Now in its second century, the CCAR has enunciated and disseminated resolutions on every human concern evoked by each generation.  Through a proliferation of committees and commissions, it acts, resolves and labors for human benefit.

The Rabbi and the Rabbi’s Family

The CCAR has always demonstrated deep concern for assuring and maintaining high standards of performance, intellectuality and spirituality among its membership.  The programs of each national and regional convention contain sessions, and the CCAR supports separate workshops and seminars, devoted to these goals.  Manuals, guidelines and source books have been published.  Increasing time at each convention has been devoted to Torah study sessions.  In addition to daily worship, conventions offer regular programs for soul-searching and spiritual growth.

Over the years, support mechanisms have been developed in an effort to ease the pressures on rabbis and their families.  A pension program begun in 1943 has grown more sophisticated and is well monitored and staffed by the Rabbinical Pension Board, a joint UAHC-CCAR commission.  A Task Force on Women in the Rabbinate has assured the movement’s almost total acceptance of women rabbis and makes ongoing recommendations to meet any special problems or needs.  A highly organized Spouse Support Group offers programs on mutual concerns at each convention and provides a network of helpfulness in every region.  In 1982 Paul Gorin organized the expanding group of retired rabbis into the National Association of Retired Reform Rabbis and since 1984 has been meeting at annual conventions, alternating between the East and West Coasts.  For rabbinic families experiencing difficulties, Jason Edelstein, a qualified counselor, maintains the CCAR’s Rabbinic Hotline.  In addition, committees have been established to study and make recommendations on all aspects of rabbinic work and family life.

The Influence of the CCAR

It would be impossible to measure the scope of influence of the CCAR.  Its individual members serve not only as congregational rabbis in all parts of the world but also as military and institutional chaplains.  They direct and staff communal organizations and serve in academia, and a sizable group can be found in a variety of secular occupations.  As part of their work, rabbis lead and serve local and national organizations in many fields and exert influence on Jewish communal and secular governmental policies.

In 1926 the CCAR reached out to the UAHC and to the Conservative and Orthodox rabbinic bodies and their lay constituencies to create the Synagogue Council of America as the representative religious body of American Jewry.  The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish organizations has its CCAR member.  Resolutions approved by each CCAR convention are forwarded to appropriate agencies of government in the United States, Canada, Israel and elsewhere and have influenced legislation.13  The late Bertram Korn summed up the major significance of the CCAR when he wrote:

Though the Reform movement-led by its rabbinical leaders who are the members of the Conference-has made many mistakes and has failed many times, its major virtue has been the strength of its determination to be honest, forthright, vigorous and direct.

It is perhaps in this area that its contribution has been greatest, whatever its affirmative leadership in the movement and nation has been: namely, the strength which it has given to its own members….The Conference has helped its members to retain their sense of proportion and guides them again and again to that true humility without which no religious leader can fulfill his (or her) responsibilities.

If one aspect of the life of the Conference ought to be mentioned…it is the warmth, the gaiety, the great comradeship of its members.  The lot of the rabbi is and needs to be a very lonely one …. In the bosom of the Conference its members can share everything.


1. James G. Heuer, Isaac Mayer Wise: His Life. Work and Thought (New York, 1965), pp. 83- 85.
2. “First Movement for a Union,” in Selected Writings of Isaac M. Wise, edited by David Philipson and Louis Grossman (Cincinnati, 1900), ch. 4; Central Conference of American Rabbis Yearbook (hereafter cited as CCAR) I (1890): 13-15; “Authentic report of the proceedings of the rabbinical conference held at Pittsburgh (sic], Nov. 16, 17, 18. 1885,” in The Changing World of Reform Judaism: The Pittsburgh Platform in Retrospect, ed. Walter Jacob (Pittsburgh, 1985), pp. 109, 123.
3. Heller, Wise, p. 477; The Graduates of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion: A Centennial Register (Cincinnati, 1975); David Philipson, My Life as an American Jew: An Autobiography , (Cincinnati, 1941), pp. 69- 70.  The term ” Central” was chosen to distinguish the new organization from the short-lived Jewish Ministers Association formed by the easterners and from the Conference of Southern Rabbis, both created in 1885.  Bertram W. Korn, ed . Retrospect and Prospect: Essays in Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Founding of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1889-1964 (New York, 1965), pp. 2ff.  The southerners were invited and joined the CCAR.
4. Berkowitz, Philipson, Stolz and Heller had been ordained by Wise at HUC.  Conspicuous by his absence from the CCAR’s founding and early years was Joseph Krauskopf, who had been the featured speaker at the April 1889 celebration of Wise’s birthday.  Krauskopf had just moved from Kansas City to Philadelphia and was undoubtedly active in the eastern Jewish Ministers Association.  Members of the Jewish Ministers Association seem to have refused to participate in the third convention of the CCAR when it met in New York in July 1892, since formal thanks are specifically “expressed to the individual Rabbis of New York and Brooklyn, to whose untiring efforts the success of the present meeting has been largely due.” (CCARY 3, p. 51). Although Krauskopf appears on the ” List of Members” from 1895 on, he did not attend until 1898, when the CCAR met in Atlantic City (CCARY 8, p. 17). Despite this, he was elected the organization’s third president in 1903.
5. CCARY 1, pp. 1- 5.
6. CCARY. passim.  Unless otherwise indicated, the Yearbooks and the authors’ personal knowledge are the sources for what follows.
7. The details of the gestation of these first Union Prayer Books are analyzed by Lou H. Silberman in Korn, Retrospect, ch. 3, pp. 46-61.
8. The debate on whether to include Kol Nidre was intense. A printing with the Hebrew text was withdrawn and replaced with an English paraphrase followed by: Kol Nidre (in Hebrew) (The Kol Nidre Chant) (in English) (p. 130).
9. For a history of Reform hymnology, see Malcolm H. Stern. “A Century of Jewish Music ,” Reform Judaism , Fall 1988, pp. 14- 15.
10. CCARY 2, pp. 66-128
11 . Tanu Rabbanan: Our Rabbis Taught; Essays in Commemoration of the Centennial of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (New York, 1990), p. 47 .
12. Rabbi’s Manual, rev. ed . (New York , 1961), p. 112; CCARY 93, pp. 44-160.  The issues of women in the rabbinate and of homosexuality in the rabbinate are discussed in the chapter on HUC-JlR.
13. Further details on many aspects of the CCAR can be found in Tanu Rabbanan: Our Rabbis Taught; Essays in Commemoration of the Centennial of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (New York, 1990), issued as CCARY, 1989, volume II.
14. Korn, Retrospect, pp. xiv-xvi.