Article Info

published: 3/17/04
updated: 7/3/13

Conservative Judaism




What is Conservative Judaism?

Conservative Judaism (known as Masorti Judaism outside the USA) is a moderate sect that seeks to avoid the extremes of Orthodox and Reform Judaism. Conservative Jews wish to conserve the traditional elements of Judaism while also allowing for reasonable modernization and rabbinical development.

The teachings of Zacharias Frankel (1801-75) form the foundation of Conservative Judaism. Frankel broke away from the Reform movement in Germany in the 1840s, insisting that Jewish tradition and rituals had not become nonessentials. He accepted both the Torah and Talmud as enduring authorities but taught that historical and textual studies could differentiate cultural expressions from abiding religious truths.

In 1902, Solomon Schechter reorganized the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City and made it the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism. Future Conservative rabbis are still trained there. {1}





Conservative Jews observe the Sabbath and dietary laws, although some modifications have been made to the latter. As in Reform Judaism, women may be rabbis. In 1985, the first woman rabbi was ordained in a Conservative synagogue. Conservative Jews uphold the importance of Jewish nationalism, encouraging the study of Hebrew and support for Zionism. Beyond these basic perspectives, beliefs and practices among Conservative Jews can range from Reform to Orthodox in nature. It is more "a theological coalition rather than a homogeneous expression of beliefs and practices." {2}

The Conservative movement has been especially successful in the United States, where it is represented by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ). The USCJ was founded in 1913 and today encompasses about 1.5 million Jews in 760 congregations. {3} Future Conservative rabbis are trained at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, NY, founded in 1883.

A number of studies have shown that there is a large gap between what the Conservative movement teaches and what most of its laypeople have incorporated into their daily lives. Conservative Judaism holds that halakha (Jewish law) is normative, i.e. that it is something that Jewish people must strive to actually live by in their daily lives. This would include the laws of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath); the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher); the practice of thrice daily prayer; observance of the Jewish holidays and life-cycle events. In practice, the majority of people who have come to join Conservative synagogues only follow all these laws rarely. Most do follow most of the laws some of the time, but only a minority follow most or all of the laws all of time. There is a substantial committed core, consisting of the lay leadership, rabbis, cantors, educators, and those who have graduated from the movement's religious day schools and summer camps, that do take Jewish law very seriously. Recent studies have shown an increase in the observance of members of the movement. {4}


Notable People in Conservative Judaism

  • Elliot N. Dorff - Professor of philosophy at the Univ. of Judaism, theologian, member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
  • Louis Finkelstein - Talmud scholar
  • Zecharias Frankel - Founder of positive-historical Judaism.
  • Neil Gillman - Theologian, JTS Philosophy Professor
  • Louis Ginzberg - Talmud scholar and halakhic expert, early member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
  • Robert Gordis - Rabbi, theologian, educator
  • Judith Hauptman - JTS Talmud scholar
  • Jules Harlow - Primary liturgist of the Conservative movement
  • Abraham Joshua Heschel - Theologian and social activist
  • Louis Jacobs - Founder of Masorti Judaism in the United Kingdom
  • Isaac Klein Rabbi, expert in Jewish law, early member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
  • Saul Lieberman - Talmud scholar at JTS
  • Joel Roth - JTS Talmud scholar, member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
  • Solomon Schechter - Researcher, early leader of JTS, creator of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
  • Mathilde Roth Schechter - Founder of the Women's League of Conservative Judaism and of Hadassah
  • Ismar Schorsch - Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America




References

  1. "An Overview of the Jewish Theological Seminary." Official Site of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
  2. "Conservative Judaism." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004.
  3. "About the USCJ." Official Site of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
  4. "Conservative Judaism." Wikipedia. 2005.

External Links on Conservative Judaism


Books on Conservative Judaism

Conservative Judaism: The New Century Conservative Judaism: The New Century
by Neil Gillman

Jews in the Center: Conservative Synagogues and Their Members Jews in the Center: Conservative Synagogues and Their Members
by Jack Wertheimer

Conservative Movement in Judaism: Dilemmas and Opportunities (Suny Series, American Jewish Society in the 1990s) Conservative Movement in Judaism: Dilemmas and Opportunities (Suny Series, American Jewish Society in the 1990s)
by Daniel J. Elazar
Viewing the Conservative Movement at a turning point, this book analyzes the problems facing the largest religious movement in the American Jewish community and outlines a plan of action for the future. Elazar and Geffen suggest: clarifying ideology, mission, and purpose, finding the right balance between traditionalists and advocates of change, unifying movement institutions in a cooperative effort, staunching the decline of membership to the left, recapturing the loyalty of lapsed adherents, closing the gap in observance between the laity and the standard bearers of the movement, developing the Movement in Israel and world-wide, and strengthening ties with Jewish federations and other Jewish communal bodies.

Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (New Casebooks) Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (New Casebooks)
by Pamela Susan Nadell
"Pamela Nadell's biographical dictionary and sourcebook is a landmark contribution to American, Jewish, and religious history. For the first time, a great American Jewish religious movement is portrayed with amplitude, authority, and personality. In the most revolutionary era in two millenia of Jewish history, this surely is an important volumn." -Moses Rischin, Professor of History San Francisco State University

  Halakha For Our Time: A Conservative Approach To Jewish Law
By David Golinkin

  Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors To Our Descendants
by Elliot N. Dorff

 

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