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Synagogue Council of Massachusetts Records

 Collection
Identifier: I-454

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains correspondence, meeting minutes, lists, reports, financial documents, promotional materials, news clippings, books, photographs, scrapbooks, and other materials that document the Synagogue Council’s work since its founding in 1941. Included are materials related to the internal proceedings of the organization, such as committee work and governing documents; documents related to the programming and events the Synagogue Council organized; materials about the Synagogue Council’s affiliated organizations, including the Beth Din, the Kashruth Commission, the Rabbinical Association of Greater Boston (later the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis), the Jewish Chaplaincy Council, the Massachusetts Association of Temple and Synagogue Administrators (MATSA), and the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts (JCAM); as well as books and pamphlets from the organization’s library. Some items are restricted. Some audiovisual items have been removed fromt the collection for proper storage. These items are identified with a seperation of materials form.

Dates

  • undated, 1908-2014

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for researcher use. Please contact us to request access or to make an appointment to view this collection at jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of this collection. For more information contact jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Historical Note

The Synagogue Council of Massachusetts was founded on December 7, 1941 as the Associated Synagogues of Greater Boston. Rabbis and lay leaders from the three major sects of Judaism (Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox) gathered at the Boston Young Men's Hebrew Association in Roxbury to establish an organization to unify and strengthen the Boston Jewish community. According to its original bylaws, the Associated Synagogues was founded “for the purpose of speaking and acting unitedly so that we might further such Jewish religious interests as our constituent Synagogues have in common…We join together for the glory of God, for the dignity of man, for the spreading of Torah and for the strength of the Jewish People.” Jacob Rabinowitz, a founder of the Stop & Shop grocery store, was the founding president, and many other leaders in the Boston Jewish community were involved in the organization’s establishment, including Harry Kraft, a dress manufacturer and father of Robert Kraft (owner of the New England Patriots and other Boston sports teams); Elihu Stone, a Massachusetts state representative; and Lewis Goldberg,a Massachusetts Superior Court judge.

Some of the early goals of the Associated Synagogues (AS) were to be an authority on religious observance, particularly the Jewish dietary laws of kashruth; to promote religious education for children and adults; to assist financially destitute rabbis; and to encourage synagogue membership. The organization first rented space at 262 Washington Street in Boston, and then moved to 161 Devonshire Street in Boston. In 1954, it bought its first property, a six-story building at 177 Tremont Street in Boston. There, the Associated Synagogues opened a Jewish Religious Center, which provided daily religious services and included a library and reading room equipped with reference books, religious works, and periodicals relating to Judaism available to the public, as well as a meeting hall for the use of various Jewish communal organizations in Boston. The Center also housed a Jewish Information and Counseling Center, which responded to questions related to Jewish ritual, practice and doctrine and provided counseling of personal problems.

The AS shared its building at 177 Tremont Street with its affiliated organizations, including the Rabbinical Association of Greater Boston (later known as the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis), the Kashruth Commission, the Vaad Harabonim, the Jewish Chaplaincy Council, and the Beth Din.

The Rabbinical Association was established in 1938 as an organization for rabbis, and was founded by prominent local leaders including Mishkan Tefila’s Rabbi Herman Rubenovitz, Kehillath Israel’s Rabbi Louis Epstein, and Temple Israel’s Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman. The Association mainly focused on providing chaplaincy services to hospitals, mental health institutions, and prisons. In later years, after becoming the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, the organization focused on social action causes, including civil rights, labor rights, and fair housing concerns. The Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts was created in 1954 and sponsors Jewish chaplains in hospitals and nursing homes and provides training and supervision of chaplains in the field.

The Kashruth Commission is responsible for determining whether restaurants and other food establishments were operating in accordance with kashruth and licensing them accordingly. The Beth Din of Greater Boston, also known as the Rabbinical Court of Justice, was organized between 1942 and 1943 and consisted of a group of judges who ruled on such matters as divorce and conversion using Jewish, or halachic, law and interpretations. It also hears and rules on civil disputes, as long as both parties agree to be under its jurisdiction. In 1968, the Beth Din resolved a landlord-tenant dispute in Boston’s South End, which received national attention and ultimately helped in forming the Housing Court of Massachusetts. Both the Kashruth Commission and the Beth Din are overseen by the Vaad Harabonim of Massachusetts, made up of Orthodox rabbis.

In its early years, the AS's activities included outreach to Jewish youths in Boston, which included providing High Holiday services and Passover seders to young adults, as well as coordinating with local Hillels to work with college youth. The AS also was involved in promoting religious education to both children and adults. It formed an Educational Round Table to address this issue. The AS also sponsored various conferences, including ones focused on Jewish education and the issue of intermarriage within the Jewish community.

In 1981, the AS restructured and reorganized under a new name, the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts (SCM). Though it was the same corporate entity as the the AS, the new SCM revised its bylaws and changed its governance structure. Previously, each member synagogue had one representative in voting matters. Now, the Executive Board (later Executive Council) has equal representation from the three major movements of Judaism (a proportionate representation of Reconstructionist congregations was later added). The presidency cycles between representatives of each denomination.

In its first year as the SCM, the organization had forty congregations as members. In later years, that number grew up to 120 member congregations.

In 1984, the SCM sold its building at 177 Tremont Street and moved to a more suburban location in Newton (1320 Centre Street). The Vaad Harabonim, Kashruth Commission and Beth Din stayed in the city of Boston, citing Jewish law that stated that the principal city in which religious documents – such as marriages and divorces – were written and witnessed could not be changed.

In 1984, a Cemetery Committee was created to investigate the feasibility of creating an organization to oversee abandoned and/or neglected Jewish cemeteries. That year, the Jewish Cemeteries Association of Massachusetts (JCAM) was established for this purpose, with the backing of the SCM, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). In its first year, it managed seventeen abandoned and neglected cemeteries. As of 2016, JCAM cares for 115 of the 222 Jewish cemeteries in the state.

In addition, in 1985, the SCM organized the Commission on Synagogue Administration, which later became the Massachusetts Association of Synagogue Administrators (MASA), and finally the Massachusetts Association of Temple and Synagogue Administrators (MATSA). MATSA, among other things, organizes a buying consortium, which saves money for member congregations on such items like office supplies, envelopes and fuel. MATSA also publishes an annual dues survey, listing membership dues structures for congregations of different sizes and in varying locations, a helpful tool for congregational planning. Additionally, MATSA holds a conference for administrators and lay leaders, known as the Synagogue Management Symposium, every other year.

The SCM participated and organized many different activities to achieve its goal as a unifying force for the Jewish community of Massachusetts. It helped organize various study and learning programs, including KOLOT, a women’s dialogue group, and LIMUD, an interdenominational study center. The SCM organized and/or sponsored with other organizations various conferences and seminars for lay leaders, ranging from membership recruitment, interfaith relations, and Israel. It also organized synagogue affiliation programming aimed at unaffiliated Jewish people and encouraging them to join the Jewish community.

The SCM continued its programming for young adults. Starting in 1985, Shabbat Shalom Boston offered weekly Shabbat services to Jewish singles, and due to its success, in 1987 Shabbat Shalom Boston 40+ was created for older Jewish singles. Later, in 1997, NASHIRA provided Shabbat services to young adults, alternating each week between Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline and Temple Israel in Boston.

In 1986, the SCM started its successful volunteer program, Project Ezra. This project gathers thousands of Jewish volunteers on Christmas day to work at homeless shelters and feeding programs, which allows Christian volunteers to spend the holiday with their families.

In 1986, when a man who claimed to be the last surviving member of the historic Vilna Shul on Beacon Hill attempted to dissolve the synagogue, the SCM, along with other Jewish organizations, fought to keep the synagogue open, taking the matter to court. In the end, the Vilna Shul was sold to the Boston Center for Jewish Heritage, a non-profit organization that preserved the structure.

In 1987, the SCM conducted its first annual Unity Mission to New York City. This trip is an intensive, two-day opportunity for leaders in the Massachusetts Jewish community to increase understanding between the various Jewish denominations. The group usually meets with leaders from CLAL, JTS/United Synagogue, Hebrew Union College/UAHC, Yeshiva University, and the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. In 1998, the Synagogue Council established an annual Unity Shabbaton, an interdenominational Shabbat weekend taking place in different parts of the state.

In the late 1980s, as thousands of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union began arriving in the area, the SCM became involved in outreach to these new Americans. They established programming aimed at helping these new immigrants settle into their new country. The Synagogue Council provided Russian-Hebrew-English resources to congregations, and published guides explaining how congregations could best help sponsor and assist Soviet Jewish immigrants.

In 2001, the Synagogue Council helped establish the Mayyim Hayyim, an interdenominational mikveh in Newton.

Today, the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts has over 200 members from the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and independent congregations.

References

  1. Material from the collection.
  2. Teperow, Alan. One Community, Many Branches: An Historical Overview of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts. 2007. Accessed February 3, 2016. https://www.synagoguecouncil.org/sites/default/files/uploaded_documents/scm_history.pdf>.

Chronology

1938
The Rabbinical Association of Massachusetts (which later became the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis) is formed.
December 7, 1941
The Associated Synagogues of Greater Boston is founded at the YMHA in Roxbury.
1941-1942
Associated Synagogues rents space at 262 Washington Street.
circa 1943
Beth Din (Rabbinical Court of Justice) is established.
1945-1954
Associated Synagogues rents space at 161 Devonshire Street.
1954
Associated Synagogues purchases a building at 177 Tremont Street.
Associated Synagogues establishes the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts.
1968
The Beth Din settles a historic landlord-tenant dispute.
1981
Associated Synagogues reorganizes and becomes the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts.
1984
The Synagogue Council sells its property at 177 Tremont Street and relocates to 1320 Centre Street in Newton.
The Cemetery Committee is established, which leads to the establishment of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts.
1985
The Commission on Synagogue Administration, later the Massachusetts Association of Temple and Synagogue Administrators (MATSA) is formed.
Shabbat Shalom Boston begins.
1986
The Synagogue Council fights to preserve Vilna Shul.
Project Ezra is inaugurated.
1987
Shabbat Shalom Boston 40+ begins.
First Unity Mission to New York City takes place.
late 1980s
New American integration programming starts.
1997
NASHIRA is established.
1998
First Unity Shabbaton takes place.
2001
Mayyim Hayyim is established.

Extent

48.5 linear feet (47 document boxes, 1 manuscript box, 1 oversized box)

Abstract

The Synagogue Council of Massachusetts was founded in 1941 as the Associated Synagogues of Greater Boston (and later the Associated Synagogues of Massachusetts). The documents in this collection describe the proceedings and activities of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts, as well as those of its affiliated organizations, including the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, the Rabbinical Association of Greater Boston, the Kashruth Commission, the Beth Din, and the Jewish Chaplaincy Council. This collection contains meeting minutes, correspondence, flyers, brochures, pamphlets, reports, financial documents, photographs, scrapbooks, news clippings, directories, and newsletters.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Alan M. Edelstein, 2004; the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts and Alan Teperow, 2011 and 2015.

Processing Information

Processed by Lindsay Murphy, Kelsey Sawyer, Kathryn Angelica, Judith Garner, and Stephanie Call, 2016
Title
Guide to the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts Records, I-454
Author
Lindsay Murphy, Kelsey Sawyer, Kathryn Angelica, Judith Garner, and Stephanie Call
Date
2016
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository

Contact:
99-101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116 United States
617-226-1245