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

Conservative Judaism



Conservative Judaism: beliefs, distinctives, practices

A modern-day branch of the Jewish religion, Conservative Judaism (known as Masorti Judaism outside the USA) is a moderate sect - on the spectrum of Jewish beliefs and practices - that seeks to avoid the extremes of Orthodox Judaism 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 non-essentials. 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}




The Way of Conservative Judaism

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}

Conservative Judaism in the United States

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

Recommended for you:

Reform Judaism

Orthodox Judaism

Hasidic Judaism

Jewish beliefs

Jewish symbols






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