From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
|Part of a series on|
|Jews and Judaism|
Conservative Judaism (also known as Masorti Judaism outside of the United States and Canada) is a modern stream of Ashkenazi Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.
Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical Judaism, developed in 1850s Germany as a reaction to the more liberal religious positions taken by Reform Judaism and put into practice from the 1840s in the Frankfurt and Berlin reform congregations. The term conservative was meant to signify that Jews should attempt to conserve Jewish tradition, rather than reform or abandon it, and does not imply the movement's adherents are politically conservative. In many countries outside the United States and Canada, including Israel and the UK, it is today known as Masorti Judaism (Hebrew for "Traditional").
In the United States and Canada, the term Conservative, as applied, does not always indicate that a congregation is affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement's central institution and the one to which the term, without qualifier, usually refers. Rather, it is sometimes employed by unaffiliated groups to indicate a range of beliefs and practices more liberal than is affirmed by the Orthodox, and more traditional than the more liberal Jewish denominations (Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism). In Canada, several congregations belong to the Canadian Council of Conservative Synagogues instead of the United Synagogue. The moniker Conservadox is sometimes employed to refer to the right wing of the Conservative spectrum, although "Traditional" is used as well (as in the Union for Traditional Judaism).
The Conservative-Masorti movement is unified on a global level by Masorti Olami, representing affiliated congregations in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Masorti Olami unites a number of smaller national and regional organizations, including:
The international association of Conservative/Masorti Rabbis is known as the Rabbinical Assembly; the Cantors Assembly is the organization of chazanim. The global youth movement is known as NOAM (an acronym for No'ar Masorti); its North American chapter is called the United Synagogue Youth. The movement maintains numerous Rabbinical seminaries and other educational institutions.
Like Reform Judaism, the Conservative movement developed in Europe and the United States in the 19th century, as Jews reacted to the changes brought about by the Enlightenment and Jewish emancipation, a confluence of events that lead to Haskalah, or the Jewish Enlightenment. In Europe the movement was known as Positive-Historical Judaism, and it is still known as "the historical school."
Positive-Historical Judaism, the intellectual forerunner to Conservative Judaism, was developed as a school of thought in the 1840s and 1850s in Germany. Its principal founder was Rabbi Zecharias Frankel, who had broken with the German Reform Judaism in 1845 over its rejection of the primacy of the Hebrew language in Jewish prayer and the rejection of the laws of kashrut. In 1854, Frankel became the head of the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau then in Kingdom of Prussia (now in Poland as Wrocław). At the seminary, Frankel taught that Jewish law was not static, but rather has always developed in response to changing conditions. He called his approach towards Judaism "Positive-Historical," which meant that one should have a positive attitude towards accepting Jewish law and tradition as normative, yet one should be open to developing the law in the same fashion that it has always historically developed. Frankel rejected the innovations of Reform Judaism as insufficiently based in Jewish history and communal practice. However, Frankel's use of modern methods of historical scholarship in analyzing Jewish texts and developing Jewish law set him apart from neo-Orthodox Judaism, which was concurrently developing under the leadership of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.
The differences between the more modern and traditional branches of American Judaism came to a head in 1883, at the "Trefa Banquet" at the Highland House entertainment pavilion, which was at the top of the Mount Adams Incline – where shellfish and other non-kosher dishes were served at the celebration of the first graduating class of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. The adoption of the radical Pittsburgh Platform in 1885, which dismissed observance of the ritual commandments and Jewish peoplehood as "anachronistic", created a permanent wedge between the Reform movement and more traditional American Jews.
In 1886, prominent Sephardic Rabbis Sabato Morais and H. Pereira Mendes founded the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York City as a more traditional alternative to Hebrew Union College. The Seminary's brief affiliation with the traditional congregations that established the Union of Orthodox Congregations in 1898 was severed due to the Orthodox rejection of the Seminary's academic approach to Jewish learning. At the turn of the 20th century, the Seminary lacked a source of permanent funding and was ordaining on average no more than one Rabbi per year.
This situation was resolved due to the efforts of Cyrus Adler, professor of Semitic languages at Johns Hopkins University and founder of the Jewish Publication Society, who convinced a number of wealthy German Reform Jews including Jacob Schiff, David and Simon Guggenheim, Mayer Sulzberger, and Louis Marshall, to contribute $500,000 to the faltering JTS.
The fortunes of Conservative Judaism underwent a dramatic turnaround when in 1902, the famed scholar Solomon Schechter, lecturer in Talmud at the University of Cambridge, accepted the invitation to become president of JTS. Under Schechter's leadership, JTS attracted a distinguished faculty, including Louis Ginzberg (author of Legends of the Jews), historian Alexander Marx, Arabist Israel Friedlander, and future founder of Reconstructionism Mordecai Kaplan, and became a highly regarded center of Jewish learning. In 1913, the Conservative Movement founded its congregational arm, the United Synagogue of America, which would later become the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Conservative Judaism enjoyed rapid growth in the first half of the 20th century, becoming the largest American Jewish denomination. Its combination of modern innovation (such as mixed gender seating) and traditional practice particularly appealed to first and second-generation Eastern European Jewish immigrants, who found Orthodoxy too restrictive, but Reform Judaism foreign. After World War II, Conservative Judaism continued to thrive. The 1950s and early 1960s featured a boom in synagogue construction as upwardly mobile American Jews moved to the suburbs. Conservative Judaism occupied an enviable middle position during a period where American society prized consensus.
By the 1990s Conservative Judaism continued to flourish, yet dichotomies of practice and belief, which had been present for years, began to formulate. After a substantial gift from Los Angeles philanthropist Ruth Ziegler, a new rabbinical school was formed at the American Jewish University (then University of Judaism) in Bel Air, California. Established in 1996, the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies became the first independent Jewish seminary to be established on the west coast. In 2001, all graduates of the Ziegler School were formally admitted as members of the Rabbinical Assembly.
Working with this 1990s trend of diversity and institutional growth, Conservative Judaism remained the largest denomination in America, with 43 percent of Jewish households affiliated with a synagogue belonging to Conservative synagogues (compared to 35 percent for Reform and 16 percent for Orthodox). In 2000, the NJPS showed that only 33 percent of synagogue-affiliated American Jews belonged to a Conservative synagogue. For the first time in nearly a century, Conservative Judaism is no longer the largest denomination in America. At the same time, however, certain Conservative institutions, particularly day schools, have shown significant growth. Conservative leaders agreed that these contrasting trends indicated that the movement has reached a crossroads as it headed into the 21st century.
The first split in the Conservative coalition occurred in 1963, when followers of Mordecai Kaplan seceded from the movement to form a distinct Reconstructionist Judaism. Kaplan had been a leading figure at JTS for 54 years, and had pressed for liturgical reform and innovations in ritual practice from inside of the framework of Conservative Judaism. Frustrated by the perceived dominance of the more traditionalist voices at JTS, Kaplan's followers decided that the ideas of Reconstructionism would be better served through the creation of a separate denomination. In 1968, the split became formalized with the establishment of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
Another schism in the Conservative ranks, this time from the movement's right wing, would come when a number of the traditionalist Rabbis led by JTS Talmudics professor David Weiss Halivni split from the United Synagogue to form the Union for Traditional Judaism. The dissenters were discontented with the general leftward trend in USCJ policies over the previous decades, such as "prayer book revision, egalitarianism, redefining halakhic boundaries of sexual relationships, and advocacy of Israel accepting conversions that are non-halakhic even by Conservative standards"., and the Union suggests that "The Conservative Movement thus appears to endorse the notion that changing societal norms can supersede the proper application of halakhic sources". The Union today describes itself as "trans-denominational" and maintains a Rabbinical seminary, the Institute of Traditional Judaism.
The Masorti movement did not establish a presence in the United Kingdom until much later and came about largely because of a series of incidents known collectively as the "Jacobs affair": Rabbi Louis Jacobs, a leading scholar of Anglo Jewry, joined the faculty of the Jews College, leaving his post as Rabbi of the New West End Synagogue, under the impression that he would eventually be made principal. However, in 1962 the London Beth Din and the Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie, who formed the leadership of the United Synagogue, the UK's Orthodox establishment, refused to allow his appointment on grounds of heresy because in his 1957 book We Have Reason to Believe, Jacobs had rejected the conception of a literal, verbal revelation of the Torah. In 1964, when the committee of the New West End Synagogue wanted to reappoint Jacobs as their rabbi, Brodie again vetoed his appointment on the same grounds. In response, Jacobs and many of the New West End congregants established the New London Synagogue, which became the center of Masorti Judaism in the United Kingdom.
In the United Kingdom, congregational observance is somewhat more traditional than in the United States. There are no female Rabbis among the British Masorti, for example, and some Masorti congregations maintain non-egalitarian practices with regard to gender, such as the mechitza and the prohibition of women reading from the Torah, while nearly all American congregations are fully egalitarian and the American Rabbinical schools ordain women as Rabbis.
There are now 13 Masorti congregations in the United Kingdom. British Masorti rabbis have trained at a number of rabbinical schools, including: the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Schechter Institute and the Shalom Hartman Institute both of Jerusalem and Leo Baeck College in London.
The first Masorti communities in the State of Israel were founded in 1979 by North American olim. The movement now has some 50 congregations in Israel, with a membership of approximately 20,000, and its programs reach some 125,000 each year. In addition to its kehillot and chavurot maintains a kibbutz (Kibbutz Hanaton), a moshav (Moshav Shorashim), and IDF Garinim, Masorti groups within the Israeli Defense Forces. The organization is active in integrating olim from South America and the former Soviet Union into Israeli society—native Israelis and olim from non-English speaking countries now make up about 60% of the Israeli Masorti population, the remaining 40% are North American olim. The movement is supported by the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel, an American organization that provides funding to Masorti programs, which are disadvantaged by the Israeli government's practice of funding only Orthodox institutions.
|Part of a series on|
|Philosophical schools and traditions|
In 1988, the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism issued an official statement of belief, Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism. Emet Ve-Emunah affirms belief in God and in the divine inspiration of the Torah; however, it also affirms the legitimacy of multiple interpretations of these issues. Atheism, Trinitarian views of God, and polytheism are ruled out. Conservative Judaism rejects both relativism and fundamentalism. The commission found that there were seven main beliefs shared by representatives from different part of the movement:
Conservative Judaism affirms monotheism. Its members have varied beliefs about the nature of God, and no single understanding of God is mandated. Beliefs about God in the tradition of Jewish rationalism have been described as "reemergent" within the movement. Such rationalism often affirms Maimonidean views of God. Other views of God affirmed by members of the Conservative movement include Kabbalistic mysticism; Hasidic panentheism (neo-Hasidism, Jewish Renewal); limited theism (as in Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People); and organic thinking in the fashion of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne, also known as process theology (such as Rabbis Max Kaddushin, William E. Kaufman, or Bradley Shavit Artson).
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 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.
Conservative Jews hold a wide array of views on the subject of revelation. Many Conservative Jews reject the traditional Jewish idea that God literally dictated the words of the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai in a verbal revelation, but they hold the traditional Jewish belief that God inspired the later prophets to write the rest of the Tanakh. Many Conservative Jews believe that Moses was inspired by God in the same manner as the later prophets.
Conservative Jews who reject the concept of verbal revelation believe that God revealed his will to Moses and other prophets in a non-verbal form—that is, God's revelation did not include the particular words of the divine texts.
Conservative Judaism is comfortable with higher criticism, including the documentary hypothesis, the theory that the Torah was redacted from several earlier sources. The movement's rabbinic authorities and its official Torah commentary (Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary) affirm that Jews should make use of modern critical literary and historical analysis to understand how the Bible developed.
Concerning the degree of revelation of Torah, Conservative Judaism rejects the Orthodox position of a direct verbal revelation of the Torah. However, Conservative Judaism also rejects the Reform view, that the Torah was not revealed but divinely inspired.
In contrast to both, most Conservative positions affirm the divine but nonverbal revelation of written Torah as the authentic, historically correct Jewish view. In this view, Oral Torah is considered inspired by Torah, but not necessarily of a straightforward divine origin.
Conservative Judaism views halakha (Jewish religious law) as normative and binding. Examining Jewish history and rabbinic literature through the lens of academic criticism, Conservative Judaism believes that halakha has always evolved to meet the changing realities of Jewish life, and that it must continue to do so in the modern age. Some Conservative theologians, like Seymour Siegel have stressed that the word, "Conservative," must be understood in the way it is used in the British political system: that the laws and traditions have to be conserved or preserved, with changes allowed only when there is an overriding reason—almost always, an overriding ethical reason—to do so. Siegel believed such change could occur when halakhah and aggadah, the wealth of non-legalistic rabbinic literature that included lessons on Jewish morals, values, and ethics, came into conflict. When they did, he believed that ethics and aggadah should prevail.
This view, together with Conservative Judaism's diversity of opinion concerning divine revelation, accounts for some of the diversity and disagreement in the Conservative movement's halakha. When considering changes to halakha, Conservative Judaism's rabbinical authorities may rely on historical analysis as well as religious considerations. As Solomon Schechter noted, "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".
Concerning interpretation of Halakha (or Jewish law): because of Judaism's legal tradition, the fundamental differences between modern Jewish denominations also involve the relevance, interpretation, and application of Jewish law and tradition. Conservative Judaism believes that its approach is the most authentic expression of Judaism as it was traditionally practiced. Conservative Jews believe that movements to its left, such as Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, have erred by rejecting the traditional authority of Jewish law and tradition. They believe that the Orthodox Jewish movements, on the theological right, have erred by slowing down, or stopping, the historical development of Jewish law: "Conservative Judaism believes that scholarly study of Jewish texts indicates that Judaism has constantly been evolving to meet the needs of the Jewish people in varying circumstances, and that a central halakhic authority can continue the halakhic evolution today." (Soc. Culture. Jewish Usenet Newsgroup FAQ) The Conservative movement makes a conscious effort to use historical sources to determine what kind of changes to Jewish tradition have occurred, how and why they occurred, and in what historical context. With this information they believe that they can better understand the proper way for rabbis to interpret and apply Jewish law to our conditions today. See also under Modern Orthodox Judaism.
Mordecai Waxman, a leading figure in the Rabbinical Assembly, writes that "Reform has asserted the right of interpretation but it rejected the authority of legal tradition. Orthodoxy has clung fast to the principle of authority, but has in our own and recent generations rejected the right to any but minor interpretations. The Conservative view is that both are necessary for a living Judaism. Accordingly, Conservative Judaism holds itself bound by the Jewish legal tradition, but asserts the right of its rabbinical body, acting as a whole, to interpret and to apply Jewish law." (Mordecai Waxman Tradition and Change: The Development of Conservative Judaism)
Conservative Judaism views the process by which Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism make changes to Jewish tradition as potentially invalid. Thus, Conservative Judaism rejects patrilineal descent and would hold that a child of a non-Jewish mother who was raised as a Reform or Reconstructionist Jew is not legally Jewish and would have to undergo conversion to become a Jew. The Conservative movement is committed to Jewish pluralism and respects the religious practices of Reform and Reconstructionist Jews. For example, the Conservative movement recognizes their clergy as rabbis, even if it does not necessarily accept their specific decisions.
Conservative Judaism accepts that the Orthodox approach to halakhah is generally valid. Accordingly, a Conservative Jew could usually satisfy their halakhic obligations by participation in Orthodox rituals. Occasionally, however, they may come into conflict. For instance, if two men and a woman were to eat a meal together, a Conservative Jew would believe that the presence of three adult Jews would obligate the group to say a communal form of the Grace After Meals, while an Orthodox Jew would believe that, lacking three adult Jewish males, the group would not be able to do such. Thus, though often de facto the case, Conservative Judaism's halakhic system does not inherently see Orthodox halakhic practice as acceptable and legitimate halakhic practice for a Conservative Jew.
Conservative Judaism maintains the Rabbinic 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, which is accepted by the Reform movement. Conservative Rabbis are not allowed to perform intermarriages (marriages between Jews and non-Jews). However, the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism has a different sociological approach to this issue than does Orthodoxy, although agreeing religiously. In a press release it has stated:
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Conservative Judaism was divided over issues of gender equality. In 1973, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards voted, without adopting an explanatory responsum, to permit synagogues to count women toward a minyan, but left the choice to individual congregations. After a further decade of debate, in 1983, JTS voted to admit women for ordination as Conservative rabbis, also without adopting an explanatory responsum. Some opponents of these decisions left the Conservative movement to form the Union for Traditional Judaism.
In 2002, the Committee adopted a responsum that provides an official religious-law foundation for its past actions and articulates the current Conservative approach to the role of women in Judaism.
In December 2006, a responsum was adopted by the Committee that approved the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and permitted commitment ceremonies for lesbian and gay Jews (but not same-sex marriage), while maintaining the traditional prohibition against anal sex between men. An opposing responsum, that maintained the traditional prohibitions against ordinations and commitment ceremonies, was also approved. Both responsa were enacted as majority opinions, with some members of the Committee voting for both. This result gives individual synagogues, rabbis, and rabbinical schools discretion to adopt either approach.
Individual rabbis continue to be free to avail themselves of more traditionalist minority rulings, and some congregations, particularly in Canada, accordingly still retain a more limited ritual role for women.
On May 31, 2012, a responsum was passed permitting same-sex marriage.
The Conservative movement maintains a number of Rabbinical seminaries:
Conservative rabbis also play a leading role at a number of non-denominational institutions of advanced Jewish learning. The rosh yeshivas at Yeshivat Hadar in New York City include rabbis Elie Kaunfer and Shai Held who were ordained by the Conservative movement (at Jewish Theological Seminary). The Rosh Yeshiva at the Canadian Yeshiva & Rabbinical School in Toronto is a Conservative rabbi, Roy Tanenbaum. The rabbinical school of the Academy for Jewish Religion in California is led by Conservative rabbi Mel Gottlieb. The faculties of the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York and of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Newton Centre, Massachusetts also includes a large number of Conservative rabbis. Many smaller programs, such as Rabbi Benay Lappe's SVARA yeshiva, are also led by Conservative rabbis.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism maintains the Solomon Schechter Day Schools, comprising 76 day schools in 17 American states and 2 Canadian provinces serving Jewish children. Many other "community day schools" that are not affiliated with the Solomon Schechter network take a generally Conservative approach, but unlike the Schechter schools, these schools generally have "no barriers to enrollment based on the faith of the parents or on religious practices in the home." During the first decade of the 21st century, a number of schools that were part of the Schechter network transformed themselves into non-affiliated community day schools.
Perhaps the greatest educational contribution made under the aegis of Conservative Judaism has been through the Jewish camping movement, the Camp Ramah system. Living Jewishly in a camp setting has raised several generations of committed Jews who are more comfortable with their Jewishness, more knowledgeable, and more aware of Judaism as a lifestyle that can be maintained even as we intersect with the larger, secular world. For a movement that has as its motto, Tradition and Change, Ramah has created a tradition of its own loyal to traditional Jewish expression and creative by virtue of its informal setting. Generations of families have attended Ramah; so many couples have met during a Camp Ramah summer and married that Ramah in the Poconos dedicated a Pagoda to Ramah marriages, with names of the couples inscribed in the structure.
Conservative Judaism has come under criticism from a variety of sources such as:
Orthodox Jewish leaders vary considerably in their dealings with the Conservative movement and with individual Conservative Jews. Some Modern Orthodox leaders cooperate and work with the Conservative movement, while haredi ("Ultra-Orthodox") Jews often eschew formal contact with Conservative Judaism, or at least its rabbinate. From the Orthodox perspective, Conservative Jews are considered just as Jewish as Orthodox Jews, but they are viewed as misguided, consistent violators of halakha.
Over the years, Conservative Judaism has experienced internal criticism. Due to halakhic disputes, such as the controversies over the role of women and homosexuality, some Conservative Talmudic scholars and experts in halakha have left the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. and the seminary's former Chancellor, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, complained of the movement's "erosion of [its] fidelity to Halacha ... [which] brings [it] close to Reform Judaism."
In matters of marriage and divorce, the State of Israel relies on its Chief Rabbinate to determine who is Jewish; the Chief Rabbinate, following Orthodox practice, does not recognize the validity of conversions performed by Conservative rabbis and will require a Jew who was converted by a Conservative rabbi to undergo a second, Orthodox conversion to be regarded as a Jew for marriage and other purposes.