Two Goals: Commitment and Community Support
by Emanuel Rackman
Excerpts From Convention Address—on our spiritual and fiscal goals
Rabbi Emanuel Rackman is spiritual leader of the Congregation Shaaray Tefila in Far Rockaway and Past President of the Rabbinical Council of America. We are proud to present two most dramatic excerpts from his Convention address.
The reports on Day Schools all over the country were most impressive. I was very much interested in the report on the South which made reference to the Day School in Charleston, S. C.
￼In 1825 or 1828, the Governor of South Carolina issued a proclamation, prior to Thanksgiving, calling upon people to assemble in their churches and thank G-d for the blessings that were theirs. The proclamation was signed not only in the year A.D. but with full Christian flourish. The Jewish merchants of Charleston had enough derech eretz and respect for their own tradition to go to the Governor and tell him that there are Jews also in South Carolina, and that he should not issue a proclamation in a tone which is unmindful of another constituency. The Governor refused to change the proclamation and that year, on Thanksgiving Day, all of the Jewish stores in Charleston were open as a protest against the Governor. This happened more than 130 years ago.
There were committed Jews in 1825. As a matter of fact, we had an instance in the days of Valley Forge, when a young Jewish soldier came to General George Washington to ask for permission to observe a day other than Sunday as the Sabbath. And over the signature of General George Washington there is a letter granting this young man permission to observe the Sabbath —a day that was holy to him.
I￼f want you to know that this young man did what during World War II — with hundreds of thousands of Jewish men and women in the armed forces of the United States — not one Jewish soldier had the courage to do: ask for that permission. We finally got it in 1943; but it w״ts the Seventh Day Adventists who asked for it. We became the indirect beneficiaries of what
they had sought and obtained.
There were Jews in 1777 and 1778; and there were Jews in 1825 and 1828. What happened to these generations? They were also Jews with commitment, Jews with courage. Yet, alas there was no Torah education. It wasn’t their fault. There was just no way to transmit Torah. Our continent was plagued with a lack of Jewish scholars, with a lack of Jewish schools. You couldn’t establish them if you wanted to.
￼The Vital Ingredient
Then there came the Eastern European influx, at the beginning of this century; and the situation was corrected. There came scholars and men who knew Torah and they established not only congregations but founded schools. But alas, they too did not prove to be what they should have been. Who can gainsay that the Talmud Torah ol forty and fifty years ago did not teach as much as our Yeshivos of today. Yet, commitment to Torah is not communicated only through knowledge. This can come only from a school which combines — perhaps it’s in the words and that is what they meant when they named it —Torah and Mesorah — Torah and Tradition, as this wonderful organization calls it; or designate it Torah Veyirah as Satmar calls it. But you need the combination of the two. One without the other will insure no survival whatever. And it is to this that you are dedicated, it is this which is your goal to fulfill; and with every new school that is established you create more and more opportunities for young men to work for Torah, to express themselves, to create in the field of Torah. You can even create a modern Orthodox intelligentsia. You create a group of B’nei Torah who are vying with each other in learning, who are able to write books pertaining to Torah. And there will be the readers for these books. There will be those who will understand. There will be those who will seek to buy them.
In All Fairness
There is, however, an area which is a problem that you must consider, because from this Convention there must go forth a voice that will really make its mark.
￼I have been committed and still am committed, perhaps less certain that I was before, but still committed, I think, to the separation of church and state. But what I cannot forgive is that the American Jewish groups that are agitating most vociferously for the separation of church and state are the ones that are denying the Day Schools the money that they are entitled to if they are to He cut off from Federal aid. At least, see that they get some money from the Jewish community. But the same people who say you can’t get from the government are the people who are holding their hands on the purse-strings of Federations and Welfare Funds and not letting the Day Schools get hold of them; and this must be told to the worldwide community — not only the Jewish community — if
In the city of New York, $50,000 a year is given to Day Schools by Federation. ‘The lowest figure in the United States. And we are fighting a losing battle to hold on to that $50,000. I’m in the midst of it, so I know.
We must raise our voice to the leadership. Make up your minds. We will not be strangled. This is our life line. Separation of church and state is a technique; and, as the Supreme Court said: Let’s not make a sacred cow of it. If you make it possible for the Day Schools to live by getting the Jewish Community to support the movement, then we are in no need of Federal aid, or State aid. But if you are going to cut off the one line, if you’re going to deny the help from Federations and Welfare Funds, then we will have to help break down that which has been cherished by us for so long. At least, we must let the rest of the Jewish world know that it can no longer commit this act of strangulation upon us.