Conservative Judaism: Also known as Masorti Judaism, Neolog Judaism and Traditional Judaism
Like Orthodoxy and Reform, The Conservative movement developed in Europe and the United States in the 1800s, as Jews reacted to the changes brought about by the enlightenment and emancipation. In Europe the movement was known as Positive-Historical Judaism, and it is still known as "the historical school" today. In the USA it became known as Conservative Judaism; later it became known as Masorti (traditional) Judaism outside of the USA.
The Conservative movement embraces both Torah and modern society; it not only accepts the results of critical historical scholarship in regards to Judaism's religious texts, but it affirms that such study itself is a religious act.
Conservative Jews feel that movements to its left, such as Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, have erred by rejecting the traditional authority and importance of halakha (Jewish law and tradition). They also feel that movements to its right, such as the various groups within Orthodox Judaism have erred by slowing down, or in most cases stopping, the historical development of Jewish law. Conservative Jews views this as a rejection of the traditional Jewish dynamic.
Conservative Judaism is a unified movement. The international body of Conservative rabbis is the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), their body of synagogues is the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), and the primary seminary and cantorial school is the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS). Other seminaries include the University of Judaism (in California, USA), the Seminario Rabbinico Latinoamericano (in Argentia) and Machon Schechter (in Jerusalem, Israel.)
Conservative Judaism affirms theism. Its members have varied beliefs about the nature of God, and no one understanding of the Deity is mandated. Among the beliefs affirmed are: Maimonidean rationalism; Kabbalistic mysticism; Hasidic panentheism (neo-Hasidism, Jewish Renewal); limited theism (as in Harold Kushner's "When Bad Things Happen to Good People); organic thinking in the fashion of Whitehead and Hartshorne, a.k.a. process theology (such as Rabbis Max Kaddushin and William E. Kaufman). Mordecai Kaplan's religious naturalism (Reconstructionist Judaism ) used to have an influential place in the movement, but since Reconstructionism developed as an independent movement, this influence has waned. Papers from a recent Rabbinical Assembly conference on theology were recently printed in a special issue of the journal Conservative Judaism (Winter 1999); the editors note that Kaplan's naturalism seems to have dropped from the movement's radar screen.
Statement of beliefs and principles
In the charter of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1902) and in the preamble to the Constitution of the United Synagogue (1913), Conservative Jews briefly outlined their beliefs, which included the call "to assert and establish loyalty to the Torah and its historical exposition". However, the movement deliberately avoided publishing systematic explications of theology and belief, as part of a conscious attempt to hold together a wide coalition. This concern became a non-issue after the left-wing of the movement seceded in 1968 to form the Reconstructionist movement, and after the right-wing seceded in 1985 to form the Union for Traditional Judaism. In 1988, the leadership council of Conservative Judaism finally issued an official statement of belief, "Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism"
An accessible work on the practices and ideology of the movement is "Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors To Our Descendants", by Elliot N. Dorff. Other explications of Conservative Jewish beliefs are online:
= Imporant leaders in the movement
Zechariah Frankel - founder of positive-historical Judaism
- Solomon Schechter - Creator of Conservative Judaism as a distinct movement
- Mathilde Roth Schechter - Founder of Women's League and of Hadassah
- Louis Finkelstein Talmud scholar and halakhic expert
- Louis Ginzberg Talmud scholar and halakhic expert
- [[Saul Lieberman] Talmud scholar
- Isaac Klein Halakhist
- Robert Gordis Theologian
- Abraham Joshua Heschel Theologian and social activist
- Ismar Schorsch - Chancellor of JTS
- [[Elliot Dorff] Theologian and halakhic expert
- Joel Roth Talmud scholar and halakhic expert
- Neil Gillman Theologian
- Judith Hauptman Talmud scholar
Halakha (Jewish law)
Conservative Jews view the laws and customs from the various law codes as the basis for normative Jewish law. However, it also note that "however great the literary value of a code may be, it does not invest it with infallibility, nor does it exempt it from the student or the Rabbi who makes use of it from the duty of examining each paragraph on its own merits, and subjecting it to the same rules of interpretation that were always applied to Tradition". [Solomon Schechter].
Conservative Judaism generally affirms the following: The divine origin of the Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible) and Jewish law. Divine revelation, however, while held to be real and actual, is now held to be non-verbal. Conservative Judaism allows its adherents to hold to a wide array of views on this subject; a sumamry of such views may be found here:
Conservative Judaism affirms that halakha (Jewish law and tradition) is not just a good idea, its the law. At the same time, Conservative Jews find it repugnant to even suggest that anyone should be coerced into following religious practices. Thus, like Modern Orthodoxy, Conservative Judaism holds that Jewish law is normative, but not enforced. That is, Jewish law encompasses a list of things that a Jew actually ought to be following in their daily life, despite the fact that there is no enforcement of such rules. For an example of how many Conservative Jews view the way that halakha can and should be developed, see this website: Formulating Jewish law for our time
The Conservative/Masorti movement's official halakhic work is Rabbi Isaac Klein's "A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice". Selected chapters of it are on line at:
The Role of Women in Conservative Judaism is discussed at this website:
Conservative Judaism maintains the traditional understanding of Jewish identity. A Jew is someone who was born to a Jewish mother, or who converts to Judaism in accordance with Jewish law and tradition. Conservatism thus rejects patrilineal descent. Conservative Judaism does not allow intermarriage. However, the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism has a more nuanced understanding of this issue than Orthodoxy. In a press release it has stated that "In the past, intermarriage...was viewed as an act of rebellion, a rejection of Judaism. Jews who intermarried were essentially excommunicated. But now, intermarriage is often the result of living in an open society....If our children end up marrying non-Jews, we should not reject them. We should continue to give our love and by that retain a measure of influence in their lives, Jewishly and otherwise. Life consists of constant growth and our adult children may yet reach a stage when Judaism has new meaning for them. However, the marriage between a Jew and non-Jew is not a celebration for the Jewish community. We therefore reach out to the couple with the hope that the non-Jewish partner will move closer to Judaism and ultimately choose to convert. Since we know that over 70 percent of children of intermarried couples are not being raised as Jews...we want to encourage the Jewish partner to maintain his/her Jewish identity, and raise their children as Jews."