Question: Multiple researchers recently requested documentation of the Conservative movement’s political and social action on national and international public issues from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. Their interest concerned not only rabbinic action, but also activities of the lay leadership.
Answer: Most well-known is Dr. Abraham Heschel’s public support of the civil rights movement demonstrated by his marching arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma Alabama in 1965. In March 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an address at the Rabbinical Assembly convention, which is transcribed along with the associated discussion in the 1968 Proceedings of the Rabbincal Assembly. Heschel eulogized King at his funeral in April 1968, and then Coretta Scott King delivered an address at a memorial service for Heschel in 1972. More information about Heschel's and King's relationship is available at: A Journey Among Leaders.
A wealth of information has been published in the "Resolutions" and "Committee Reports" sections of the Proceedings of: the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue and the Women’s League of Conservative Judaism.
In the Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, published annually almost each year since 1927, a sampling of the public affairs issues included are: civil rights, nuclear proliferation, conscientious objectors, unions and labor issues. An index to 1927-2000 Proceedings provides limited access to public affairs issues. For example, the following list of entries concerns civil rights; but please note that there is relevant content in the Proceedings that this Index will not retrieve--for example, the Resolutions entries for the earlier volumes do not specify the political issues covered.
King, Coretta Scott. “Black-Jewish Relations,” 49 (1987): 57–60.
King, Jr., Martin Luther. “Address and Discussion,” delivered at the 1968 convention. Also published in Conservative
Judaism, Vol. 22, 3, Spring 1968.
Ofseyer, Jordan S. “In Memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” 49 (1987): 61–65.
Shapiro, Alexander M. “The Future of Black-Jewish Relations,” 47 (1985): 15–20.
Young, Andrew. “The Future of Black-Jewish Relations,” 47 (1985): 3–11.
“Discussion: The Future of Black-Jewish Relations,” Andrew Young, 47 (1985): 11–14.
Conservative Judaisim (the journal published by the Rabbinical Assembly from 1945 to the present) includes a number of relevant articles; for example:
"The Rabbi's Involvement in Social Issues" by Rabbi Sidney Shanken (Spring/Summer 1963) p. 49
"To Birmingham and Back" by Rabbi Andre Ungar (Fall 1963) p. 1
"The Jew and the Negro: The Jew of the South in the Conflict on Segregation" by W. S. Malev (Fall 1958), p. 35; letters and replies were published in this issue and subsequent issues.
An index to articles in Conservative Judaism, 1945-2000 is available via The Internet.
Recent political and social activity by the Rabbinical Assembly is documented at their website
WOMEN'S LEAGUE FOR CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM
The following publications about and by the Women's League include much material about the League's social action activities:
Women's League Outlook (a magazine) was published 1930-1970. For example, the December 1951 issue has a full page detailing activities of the Social Action committee, including a message sent to Truman and top congressional leaders about civil rights, civil liberties and the United Nations. In addition, this issue includes highlights from the national Women's League Social Action Conference held in 1951.
Proceedings of the Biennial Convention (of the Women's League) includes a great detail of social action content, including speeches, committee reports and resolutions. For example, the 1950-52 resolutions concern civil liberties, immigration, federal aid to education, religion in the public schools, the Senate Cloture Rule, Point IV Program (foreign policy), the United Nations, genocide, disarmament, Israel and Germany. The JTS Library has volumes from 1950- 1977.
Our library holds three histories of the Women's League: They Dared To Dream (1967), The Sixth Decade (1978), and 75 Years of Vision and Voluntarism (1992). All of them include social action content.
Current social and political activity of the Women's League is documented on their website
UNITED SYNAGOGUE OF AMERICA
United Synagogue has its own social action group, and also a Joint Comission on Social Action with the Rabbinical Assembly. Some social action content is in A History of the United Synagogue of America 1913-1963 by Abraham Karp (1964)
The Proceedings of the Biennial Conventions of United Synagogue of America (volumes from 1950-1977) include reports of the social action committes, and social action resolutions. Some of the topics covered are: personal freedom and the McCarren Act, world peace, civil liberties and civil rights, immigration, integration in the schools, nuclear testing, the genocide convention, the war against poverty, and Vietnam.
United Synagogue Review, a magazine published by United Synagogue aimed at all synagogue members, included articles on the following topics in the 1950's-1960's: civil disobedience, prejudice, Vietnam, civil rights, and the American tax system.
Recent political and social activity by the United Synagogue is documented at their website.