Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, one of the nation's oldest and largest Reform Jewish synagogues, has announced to its members that it will open an elementary day school next fall.
By 1995, the Pikesville congregation expects to enroll 150 students from kindergarten through the fifth grade.
It will be only the 15th such school among more than 800 Reform congregations in the United States, said Rabbi Murray Saltzman of Baltimore Hebrew.
"While not everyone in the congregation is overjoyed," he said, "nevertheless, the decision stands as an important and historic move, which places this congregation in the forefront of Reform Judaism's dynamic growth."
Carl S. Silverman, the congregation's lay president, said reasons for the move are "the survival needs of Reform Judaism and the challenge to provide for Jewishly informed leadership." He said there was no intention to "compromise public education or the existing religious-school programs and staffing."
Rabbi Saltzman said the Reform Jewish movement generally, and he personally, are "deeply committed to public education." He said the new school -- at the synagogue site -- would have a limited enrollment so as not to compete with the public schools.
Baltimore Hebrew already has a preschool for ages 2 1/2 to 5 with an enrollment of 250. Last year it started a kindergarten, which has an enrollment of fewer than a dozen.
A first grade will be added next fall, and another grade each fall after that through 1995. A maximum of 150 students has been set for the six classes. The tuition for kindergarten is $2,950 a year; for first grade, it will be $3,950.
Mr. Silverman acknowledged that some board members at Baltimore Hebrew expressed "concerns, anxiety and unhappiness" over the decision. Objections raised were that the action would be seen as non-support of public education, that such a school should have a broader base in the Jewish community than just one synagogue, and that other needs of the congregation might suffer.
"Arguments against establishment of the school were based upon the congregation's limited financial resources, the current deficit budget and the present poor economy," Mr. Silverman said. However, contributions and pledges to get the school started already amount to more than $150,000, he said.
It was estimated that as much as $350,000 would be raised to fund the school's deficit over the next five years. More than $200,000 of that would be for capital expenses. The school should be self-supporting by the fifth year, Mr. Silverman said.